Belém is a Brazilian city, the capital and largest city of state of Pará in the country's north. It is the entrance gate to the River Amazon with a busy port, airport, and bus/coach station. Belém lies approximately 100 km upriver from the Atlantic Ocean, on the Pará River, which is part of the greater Amazon River system, separated from the larger part of the Amazon delta by Ilha de Marajó (Marajo Island). With an estimated population of 1,402,056 people —or 2,249,405, considering its metropolitan area— it is the 11th most populous city in Brazil (besides being the second largest in the North Region, second only to Manaus, in Amazonas state) as well as the 16th by economic relevance.
Founded in 1616 by the Kingdom of Portugal, Belém was the first European colony on the Amazon but did not become part of Brazil until 1775. The newer part of the city has modern buildings and skyscrapers. The colonial portion retains the charm of tree-filled squares, churches and traditional blue tiles. The city has a rich history and architecture from colonial times. Recently it witnessed a skyscraper boom.
Belém, literally Bethlehem is also known as the Metropolis of the Brazilian Amazon region or the Cidade das Mangueiras (city of mango trees) due to the vast number of those trees found in the city. Brazilians often refer to the city as Belém do Pará ("Belém of Pará") rather than just Belém, a reference to an earlier name for the city, Santa Maria de Belém do Grão Pará, and also to differentiate it from a number of other towns called Belém in Brazil. It is named after Santa Maria de Belém in Lisbon, also better known by its shortened name, Belém.
Belém is served by two airports: Val de Cães International Airport, which connects the city with the rest of Brazil and other cities in South America and Brig. Protásio de Oliveira Airport (Júlio César) Airport dedicated to general aviation.
The city is also home to the Federal University of Pará.
In 1615, Portuguese captain-general Francisco Caldeira Castelo Branco of the captaincy of Bahia commanded a military expedition sent by the Governor General of Brazil to check the trading excursions of foreigners (French, Dutch, English) up the river (Amazon) from the Cabo do Norte in Grão Pará.
On January 12, 1616, he anchored in what we now call Guajará bay formed by the confluence of the Para and Guama Rivers, called by the Tupinambás, "Guaçu Paraná". Caldeira mistook the bay for the main channel, and thirty leagues upstream, he built a wooden fort, covered with straw, which he called "Presépio" (now "Forte do Castelo"). The colony that was formed by the fort, he gave the name Feliz Lusitânia, "Happy Lusitania" – the embryo of the future city of Belém. The fort failed to suppress Dutch and French trading but did ward off colonization.
Feliz Lusitânia was later called Nossa Senhora de Belém do Grão Pará (Our Lady of Bethlehem of Grao-Para) and Santa Maria de Belém (St. Mary of Bethlehem). Belém was given city status in 1655 and was made capital of the State when Pará state was separated from Maranhão in 1772. The early decades of the 19th century were marked by political instability. Uprisings and internecine strife were finally ended in 1836, after considerable loss of life.
The sugar trade was important in the Belém region until the end of the 17th century. Thereafter the city's economic importance alternately rose and fell. Cattle ranching supplanted sugar until the 18th century, when cultivation of rice, cotton, and coffee became profitable. With the settlement of southern Brazil, where such crops could be produced more reasonably, Belém declined again. The city subsequently became the main exporting centre of the Amazon rubber industry, and by 1866 its position was further enhanced by the opening of the Amazon, Tocantins, and Tapajós rivers to navigation. The rubber era terminated after the boom of 1910–12, but Belém continued to be the main commercial centre of northern Brazil and the entrepôt for the Amazon valley.