Situated 760 meters (2500 feet) above sea level, the city of São Paulo, in the state of the same name, occupies an area of approximately 1500 square kilometers (580 square miles), where almost two-thirds of the land is urbanized and the rest rural. These two areas are known as Grande São Paulo (Greater São Paulo) and, with more than 15 million people, it has the largest population of any city in South America.
Pinheiros & Lapa
The old center, the suburbs, and a huge number of districts that make up this megalopolis all help to reveal the history of the city and its population. Initially inhabited by Native Americans and later by Portuguese colonists, the city received a considerable population of African slaves in the 17th Century, as did almost all the south, central and north-eastern regions of the country. Slaves provided the main source of manual labor for the coffee and sugar cane plantations. However, São Paulo's population, grew very slowly until the middle of the 19th Century. At this time, the area we now know as Greater São Paulo was still made up of small scattered settlements, concentrated mainly in the present-day locations of the Pinheiros, Freguesia do Ó and Lapa districts.
As coffee became the biggest commodity in the area in the 1870s, the city prospered. Railways linked São Paulo with neighboring Santos harbor, banks and export companies contributed additional wealth, enticing more and more people towards the development of new districts. From 1870 onwards, the urbanization of the city took place as swamps were transformed into gardens. Brás, one of the oldest districts and the former estate of the Portuguese trader José Brás—along with the Mooca and Lapa districts became new homes for Italian immigrants, who flocked to the city at the end of the 19th Century. The immigrants changed the culture of São Paulo and heavily influenced the paulista spoken accent, which is markedly different from any other in Brazil. At the end of the 19th Century and beginning of the 20th, many farms were subdivided, and new districts such as Santa Efigênia, Bom Retiro, Consolação and Campos Elísios, (where the well-to-do lived at that time) came into being.
Thanks to the construction of the first power station in 1890, electrically-driven trams were introduced to the city. In the 20th Century, industrial development created new urban areas towards the east, west and south, following the railway lines and the Tietê, Tamanduateí and Pinheiros river valleys. Japanese immigrants, who arrived at the beginning of this century to work in agriculture, settled in what is today one of the most traditional areas of São Paulo: the
Smaller, older settlements around the city were incorporated into the metropolitan region over the course of time. From 1915 onwards, very elegant districts started to spring up, such as Jardim Europa, Jardim América and Jardim Paulista, which have today become sophisticated commercial zones known collectively as the "Jardins." The Avenida Paulista is the Wall Street of São Paulo, boasting some of the most expensive office space available, as well as epitomizing the contrast of the different eras that so characterize São Paulo. Down one side of the street are historic neighborhoods and buildings, such as the Teatro Municipal, Viaduto do Chá and the Vale do Anhangabaú; and down the other side, one will find residential and modern office constructions with well-planned architecture and engineering, notably the Jardins district itself.
Also on this side are the Jóquei Clube and the Morumbi district, where, besides the big mansions and luxurious residential buildings, you can find the Morumbi Stadium, one of the venues chosen by FIFA for the first World Club football tournament.
Vila Madelena e Bexiga
Another district notable for both its culture and its gastronomy is Vila Madalena, which possesses a high number of bars and restaurants, and an intense nightlife that attracts professionals, university students and artists. Most of São Paulo's districts have acquired a unique personality as, for example, the Bela Vista (also known as Bexiga) neighborhood, where you can find most of the city's theaters, and where you can frequent numerous bars featuring forró music (traditional music from north-eastern Brazil).
São Paulo is a true megalopolis. It pulsates with the energy of all the people who make it what it is: one of the world's biggest and greatest cities. There are many good reasons to come to São Paulo, from business and study to entertainment, culture and leisure, and that is why it is one of the most frequently visited cities in Brazil today, by Brazilians as well as others from the world over.
The majority of the luxury hotels are located in the most commercially important sector of the city: the Avenida Paulista. One of the most traditional places is the Maksoud Plaza Hotel, distinguished by its architecture and its impressive atrium and panoramic elevators. More recent constructions include the Gran Melia Mofarrej, the Caesar São Paulo Hotel and the Crowne Plaza Hotel. Another, slightly newer hotel in this category is the Renaissance São Paulo, with a central location that offers easy access to most parts of the city. Still rated first class, but with lower prices, are a number of hotels distributed throughout the city. Central São Paulo offers at least one of these: the São Paulo Othon Hotel. In the all-important area of Avenida Paulista one finds the Hotel Inter-Continental São Paulo, used mostly by business executives.
New developments are also going up in the south zone near Nações Unidas Avenue. Here you can find the Transamerica Hotel, regularly attended by the Formula One crowd when the Brazilian Grand Prix is on, due to its proximity to the city's municipal racetrack. And, don't forget São Paulo's top luxury hotel, the São Paulo Hilton, located in the city centre near the Praça da República. Also very popular are the Hotel Jandaia and the Hotel Normandie, also located in the the south zone.
Needless to say, there is a wide choice of middle and lower category establishments throughout the city, and you can find a hotel to suit your needs in almost every district. Note, for example, the elegantly decorated Nikkey Palace in Liberdade, the Japanese quarter.
Outside of the City
São Paulo has much to offer for those who wish to stay for a longer period, as well, with options such as "apart-hotels" and other types of residential accommodation. Whatever the reason that brings you, São Paulo offers plenty to choose from in the way of comfortable accommodation, ranging from luxury first-class hotels, renowned for their exclusive service, to less sophisticated establishments found all over the city. The quality and conditions of hotel service are given a star rating by the Brazilian Tourist Board (Embratur), ranging from five stars for a top luxury hotel, to one star for the simplest board and lodgings.
At the beginning of the 16th Century, Brazil had only just been discovered by the Portuguese, and the area atop the Serra do Mar mountain range in the south-east of the country now occupied by São Paulo, was inhabited exclusively by the indigenous Guaianás. The first Caucasian man to settle there was the Portuguese sailor João Ramalho, stranded by a shipwreck on the São Paulo coastline in 1510. Ramalho married Portira (or Bartira), the daughter of the local chieftain Tibiriçá, and the couple soon started a family. In 1532, João Ramalho helped Lord Martin Afonso de Souza, commander of the first Portuguese colonial expedition to Brazil, to establish the Piratininga village in the upland region; in 1553 the village was renamed Santo André da Borda do Campo.
The main goal of the Jesuit priests who accompanied the first Portuguese colonists in the 16th Century was to convert the local indigenous inhabitants to Christianity. In 1553, the senior Jesuit in Brazil, Manuel da Nóbrega, drew up an ambitious plan to reach the banks of the Paraná river and convert the Carijós inhabitants. For this he needed an inland base, so São Vicente (the future state of São Paulo) was chosen to harbor the priests as they prepared to initiate the conversion process. On January 24, 1554, a group of 13 clerics under the command of José de Anchieta, began to build a settlement on the banks of the Tamanduateí river, next to the Vale do Anhangabaú (now the centre of São Paulo). The name chosen for this place at the time was the "Colégio São Paulo," and from that humble beginning, the largest city in South America, and one of the biggest in the world, slowly grew.
In 1560, the inhabitants of the settlement of Santo André da Borda do Campo were ordered to move to the Colégio São Paulo. They were sent there to help ward off a possible attack by the indigenous Tamoios, then allies of the French, who had just invaded Rio de Janeiro. Santo André da Borda do Campo was abandoned, and the Colégio São Paulo practically converted overnight from a village into a town. It was a poor town, however, until the 18th Century. Remote and relatively untouched by developments taking place in the rest of the colony, the small population survived on subsistence farming.
During those early years, many expeditions set off from São Paulo into the Brazilian heartland in search of gold and precious stones, and to capture and enslave more native inhabitants. These expeditions were called entradas e bandeiras (entrances and flags). However, when gold was found in the State of Minas Gerais, the Portuguese Crown suddenly took a keen interest in the colony, purchased the capitania (governorship) of São Vicente, and handed it to the descendants of its first colonial owners. Henceforth, the region was called the Capitania de São Paulo e Minas Gerais; the power-center of the region was established in the town of São Paulo.
In 1711, the town was awarded city status. The gold rush in Minas Gerais, very similar to that which was to take place in California some years later, brought money to the São Paulo region for the first time. In the second half of the 18th Century, the first processing plants for sugarcane production were built. Due to the turmoil in Europe caused by the Napoleonic wars, the Portuguese Royal family were obliged to move to Brazil in 1808. After their arrival, and several constitutional and political crises later, the Prince Regent D. Pedro I proclaimed Brazil's independence from Portugal. The event took place in 1822, on the banks of the Ipiranga River in São Paulo. According to French naturalist Saint-Hilaire, who was visiting the city at the time, São Paulo had more than 4000 houses and a population of around 25,000 people. However, urbanization of the city proper did not really take off until the 1870s, stimulated by the huge industrial growth that had taken place in the first half of the 19th Century partly due to the enormous profits generated by coffee production.
Like all the world's major cities, São Paulo is blessed with a huge variety of bars, restaurants and cafes, ranging from the most refined, elegant rendezvous points to humble and hearty neighborhood eateries. Dining in São Paulo, of course, does have some unique features. Booking tables in advance, for example, is never a prerequisite throughout most of this laid-back city. You might need to do so in some of the more upmarket establishments, but in general, a busy or adventurous tourist can get a decent meal any time of day or night, as most restaurants in São Paulo are open until 2 a.m.
Beer gardens are restaurants where the food menu is really just a support act to the excellent Brazilian draft beers on tap, served in tall glasses, china mugs or aluminum steins. However, do not confuse beer gardens with local bars that usually serve Chope which is just draft beer and generally attract a younger crowd. The Bar Léo, located in the bohemian city centre, is one the most traditional beer gardens in São Paulo, as is the Cervejaria Continental, whose beer-accompanying savory snacks have quite a reputation. Needless to say, there is no shortage of neon-lit international fast-food chains, but more interesting fare can be found in the three types of restaurant that define eating out in Brazil: the beer garden Brewpub, the steak and barbecue house, and the pizzeria such as Terraço Itália.
Pizzerias are one of São Paulo's gastronomic fortes. The city's Italian community is large and vibrant, and much of their culture has found its way into the daily lives of every paulista (i.e. someone from São Paulo). The Italian influence is particularly notable in the local cuisine, and some do say that you can get a better pizza in São Paulo than you can back in Italy: this claim can be put to the test at the Pizzaria Cristal. Neither is the Iberian peninsula absent, with the Spanish Don Curro in Pinheiros, and Portuguese cuisine served at Antiquarius in Jardins.
Brazilians in general, and paulistas in particular, are voracious meat eaters. It is therefore hardly surprising that a big favourite here for dining out are those temples of carnivorous self-indulgence known as the steak and barbecue house. These establishments may be one of two kinds: those that serve set meals from the menu, and the churrascarias, or "all-you-can-eat" restaurants, where waiters shuttle around the tables, serving different cuts of meat. Two famous such establishments are the Baby Beef Rubaiyat, with three branches (in the city centre, Jardim Paulistano and Paraíso), and Dinho's Place. For lovers of international cuisine, and those with the budget to pay for it, the options are plentiful. Among the Italian restaurants, places like Fasano are remarkable. For more refined oriental cuisine, try the Japanese Suntory restaurant (Jardins) or the Indian Ganesh.
Italian food at Ca'D'Oro and La Vecchia Cucina (Itaim) are famed both at home and abroad, as is the Middle-Eastern restaurant Arábia also in Jardins.
Outside the City
There is also Café Antiqüe, a fabulous French restaurant located in Jardim Paulista. There are also various establishments specialising in typical Brazilian cuisine, notably O Profeta, where common dishes from the State of Minas Gerais are served such as tutu de feijão (a bean-based concoction), crispy bacon, pork sausages and home-made tropical fruit desserts.
There are also numerous venues with live music, where food may not be the main attraction, but the impassioned atmosphere, with beautiful young people and excellent house drinks, makes them well worth a visit. In São Paulo, when the new day begins you hardly notice it.