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Belém, city in Brazil near the mouth of the Amazon River. Belém is located on the south bank of the Pará River, about 60 miles from the Atlantic Ocean. Long the capital of the state of Pará, it had more than 1.38 million inhabitants in 2007. The region was densely settled by native peoples when the Europeans first reconnoitered it in 1500.

Within a hundred years, several British and Dutch agricultural colonies sprang up in the vicinity. In 1616 Francisco Caldeira Castelo Branco (Capitão Mor of Rio Grande do Norte) founded the modern city, called Santa María de â Belém. He and a lieutenant, Pedro Teixeira, used Belém as a base from which to drive out the foreigners. In addition to its location, Belém offered maritime passage and anchorages protected from the awesome tidal bore that swept up the Amazon River.

Belém served the Portuguese as a strategic gateway to the entire Amazon basin. In the 1660s it became the economic emporium of the Amazon Region, and governors often resided there instead of in the capital at São Luís. By the eighteenth century, Belém merchants had organized shipyards, trade, and Indian slaving expeditions throughout the region.

At the height of the rubber boom in the early 1900s, U.S. entrepreneur Percival Farquhar built modern docks to accommodate oceangoing ships. The collapse of the boom only temporarily deflated Belém's economy, and today the city provides governmental, political, economic, financial, educational, and defense services for the local population and the country as a whole.

See alsoBrazil, Geography .


John Ure, Trespassers on the Amazon (1986).

Additional Bibliography

Chesnut, R. Andrew. Born Again in Brazil: The Pentecostal Boom and the Pathogens of Poverty. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1997.

Cruz, Ernesto Horácio da. História de Belém. Belém: Universidade Federal do Pará, 1973.

Pereira, Magnus Roberto de Mello, Maria Angélica Soller, and Maria Izilda Santos de Matos. A cidade em debate: Belém, Recife, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Santos, Uberlândia, Curitiba, Porto Alegre. São Paulo: Editora Olho d'Agua, Sociedade e Cultura, 1999.

Sarges, Maria de Nazaré. Belém: Riquezas produzindo a belle-époque (1870–1912). Bélem: Paka-Tatu, 2002.

Slater, Candace. Entangled Edens: Visions of the Amazon. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.

Zetter, Roger, and Georgia Butina Watson. Designing Sustainable Cities in the Developing World. Burlington: Ashgate, 2006.

                                  Michael L. Conniff

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Belém (bəlāN´) or Pará (pərä´), city (1996 pop. 1,142,258), capital of Pará state, N Brazil, on the Pará River. Belém, the chief port of the vast Amazon River basin, handles the Amazonian produce (chiefly Brazil nuts, aluminum, cassava, and pepper) and has processing plants. North Brazil's largest airport and a coastal railroad enhance the trade of Belém, which is also connected with Brasília by a railroad and highway.

Belém [Port.,=Bethlehem] was founded by the Portuguese in 1616 as Santa Maria de Belém do Grão Pará and was a military post for the defense of N Brazil against French, English, and Dutch pirates. It reached a peak of feverish prosperity during the wild-rubber boom in the late 19th and early 20th cent., then suffered a depression that was alleviated by diversification and planned development in the 1930s. Prosperity increased also after World War II with the improvement of communications within the Amazon region.

The city is known for its Goeldi museum, with ethnological and zoological collections of the Amazon basin. It also has an open-air market, a botanical garden brilliant with exotic flowers, a modern leprosarium, and the Federal Univ. of Pará. The government palace and the cathedral were built in the 18th cent.; Santo Alexandre, Belém's oldest church, was completed in 1616.

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