Belém (literally "Bethlehem") 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—2,249,405, or considering its metropolitan area—is the 11th most populous city in Brazil (besides being the second largest in the North Region, second only Manaus, in Amazonas state) as well as be 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. Its metropolitan area has over 2 million inhabitants.
Belém 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 so as to differentiate it from the biblical Bethlehem in Palestine and also from Belém in Portugal.
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 1616 the fortified settlement of Feliz Lusitânia, later called Nossa Senhora de Belém do Grão Pará (Our Lady of Bethlehem of the Great Para) and Santa Maria de Belém (St. Mary of Bethlehem), was established, consolidating Portuguese supremacy over the French in what is now northern Brazil. 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.
The most valuable products now exported from the Amazon by way of Belém are aluminium, iron ore, and other metals. Nuts (chiefly Brazil nuts), pineapples, cassava, jute, wood veneers, and hardwoods. Japanese immigration after the 1930s was an important factor in developing jute and black pepper, notably at Tomé-Açu, just south of Belém, and near Santarém. Marajó Island, the largest fluvial island in the world, which lies just across the Rio Pará from Belém, has some livestock grazing. Electricity is provided by the massive Tucuruí Dam, some 300 km southwest of the city on the Tocantins River.
Belém has a modern appearance with tree-lined streets, several plazas and public gardens, and many noteworthy buildings. The north's leading educational and cultural centre, it is the seat of a bishopric, and its cathedral (Igreja da Sé, founded in 1917) is one of Brazil's largest. Santo Alexandre, the oldest of Belém's churches, was built in 1616. The Museu (museum) Paraense Emílio Goeldi, the Teatro da Paz (a classical theatre), and the public library and archives are other notable institutions. The Universidade Federal do Pará (1957), a teacher-training school, an agricultural institute, and an institute for research on tropical diseases are also in the city. The Ver-o-Peso (Portuguese: "see the weight") market in the old port centre is a major tourist attraction. The city is also home to a large football stadium.