The Port of Belem is the capital of the State of Para in northern Brazil. Located on the Guajara Bay, it sits on the delta of the Amazon River near the mouth of the Rio Guama about 130 kilometers inland from the Atlantic Ocean. The city of Belem is the main port for Amazon River traffic and for the country’s capital of Brasilia over two thousand kilometers inland. The international airport at the Port of Belem is the largest in northern Brazil. In 2005, over two million people lived in the Belem metropolitan area.
The Port of Belem was founded in 1616 by Captain Francisco Caldeiras de Castelo Branco as a fortified settlement called Feliz Lusitania. The fortress he established there was built to defend the area from Portugal’s European rivals (France, Belgium, and Britain). It was the first European colony established on the Amazon. Belem received city status in 1655 and became capital of Para when it separated from Maranhao. Until the late 1600s, the sugar trade made the Port of Belem an important center for the region. In the 1700s, cattle ranching and crops like rice, coffee, and cotton sustained the local economy. When southern Brazil was settled, the area of the Port of Belem declined, as agriculture was more productive in the south.
In 1835, the Port of Belem was a small town of about 13 thousand people protected by a colonial fort and shoreline batteries. Later in the 1800s, the Port of Belem became an important center for the Amazonian rubber industry and, later, for navigation when the Amazon, Tocantins, and Tapajos rivers were opened to shipping. Although the rubber boom ended in the early 1900s, the Port of Belem continued to be an important commercial center for northern Brazil.
In the 1930s, immigrants from Japan developed a thriving industry in the cultivation of jute and black pepper. Today, the Port of Belem is noted for exports of aluminum, iron ore, nuts, pineapples, jute, wood veneers, hardwoods, and pineapples. With its long history, the modern city of Belem is blessed with beautiful tree-lined streets, public gardens, plazas, and many outstanding buildings. It is the leading educational and cultural center in northern Brazil and seat of a bishopric, home to one of Brazil’s largest cathedrals. The city of Belem hosts the annual Cirio de Nazare, a world-famous 15-day-long celebration for the Virgin Mary that attracts millions of pilgrims every year.