São Paulo was founded by the Jesuits in 1554, on a plateau 2,493 feet (760 meters) above sea level, but only 45 miles (72 km) from the coast, as a mission center ( Patio do Colegio - as the area today is called) for early settlers and the indians who inhabited the area. For a long time it remained a small town. Around 1850 it began to grow and became richer thanks to the highly productive coffee plantations in the state. Later on, the income from coffee exports and the increasing population provided capital and manpower for the foundation of an industrial base.

In 1763 the colonial capital of Brazil was transfered from Salvador, Bahia to Rio. In 1808, as Napoleon's armies began the invasion of Portugal, the decision was made to transfer the monarch and his court to Rio de Janeiro, where he would remain until 1821. During this time Brasil was elevated in status from a colony to United Kingdom with Portugal. With the advent of Independence Rio became the capital of the new empire. The city prospered economically, and by 1891 it had a population of over 500,000 inhabitants ranking it one of the largest cities in the world. As the city grew in prominence mountains were removed, bay water reclaimed, and skyscrapers constructed.