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 .
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