Curitiba (Tupi: "Pine Nut Land", or ) is the capital and largest city of the Brazilian state of Paraná. The city's population numbered approximately 1,760,500 people as of 2010, making it the eighth most populous city in the country, and the largest in Brazil's South Region. Its metropolitan area, called Curitiba Metropolitan Area (Região Metropolitana de Curitiba, in Portuguese), comprises 26 municipalities with a total population of over 3.2 million (IBGE estimate in 2010), making it the seventh most populous in the country.
Curitiba is an important cultural, political, and economic center in Latin America. The city sits on a plateau at above sea level. It is located west of the seaport of Paranaguá and is served by the Afonso Pena International and Bacacheri airports. The city hosts the Federal University of Paraná, established in 1912.
In the 1700s Curitiba possessed a favorable location between cattle-breeding country and marketplaces, leading to a successful cattle trade and the city's first major expansion. Later, between 1850 and 1950, it grew due to logging and agricultural expansion in the Paraná State (first Araucaria logging, later mate and coffee cultivation and in the 1970s wheat, corn and soybean cultivation). In the 1850s waves of European immigrants arrived in Curitiba, mainly Germans, Italians, Poles and Ukrainians, contributing to the city's economic and cultural development. Nowadays, only smaller numbers of foreign immigrants arrive, primarily from Middle Eastern and other Latin American countries.
The biggest expansion occurred after the 1950s, with innovative urban planning that changed the population size from some hundreds of thousands to more than a million people. Curitiba's economy is based on industry and services and is the fourth largest in Brazil. Economic growth occurred in parallel to a substantial inward flow of Brazilians from other cities of the country, as approximately half of the city's population was not born there.
Curitiba sports one of Brazil's highest Human Development Index readings at 0.856, and in 2010 was awarded the Global Sustainable City Award, given to cities and municipalities that excel in sustainable urban development. According to US magazine Reader's Digest, Curitiba is the best "Latin American Big City" in which to live.
The first ten years of the 16th century marked the beginning of a war of conquest of Europeans (Portuguese colonists) against the indigenous peoples who inhabited the area of the city. Curitiba's birth certificate dates back to 29 March 1693, when its City Council was founded. At the end of the 17th century, Curitiba had an agriculture of subsistence and its economic activities were based mainly on mineral extraction. Waves of European immigrants started arriving after 1850, mainly Germans (mostly from Russia), Italians, Poles and Ukrainians. In 1853, the south and southwest of the province of São Paulo were separated, forming the new province of Paraná, and Curitiba became its capital.
During the 20th century, especially after 1950, the city rapidly increased in population and consolidated its position as a regional hub for trade and services, becoming one of the richest cities in Brazil and a pioneer in urban solutions. In the 1940s and 1950s, Alfred Agache, co-founder of the French Society for Urban Studies, was hired to produce its first city plan. It emphasised a "star" of boulevards, with public amenities downtown, an industrial district and sanitation. It was followed in part, but was too expensive to complete.
The next economic cycle in the region was based on the "tropeiros": cattle drivers who traveled with their herds from Viamão, in the southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul, to the fair in Sorocaba, in the state of São Paulo. From there, the herds were then taken to the state of Minas Gerais. The cattle drivers would spend winter periods in the middle of the journey, in the "campos de Curitiba" (fields of Curitiba), and these campsites were set up would only be dismantled when the cold season gave way to spring. These cattle drivers would take advantage of their stay to carry out businesses, and by doing so, they led Curitiba to become an important intermediary trading post. The use of the mate plant to produce a bitter type of tea called "chimarrão", the tradition of wearing wool ponchos, roasting meat and kindling bonfires led to the agglomeration of circles of men and the eventual creation of settlements.
Two other economic cycles were happening simultaneously in the history of Curitiba: the cycles of the mate plant and of wood. This expansion, at the end of the 19th century, stimulated the construction of the Paranaguá-Curitiba railroad, this being the first link between the capital of the then Province of Paraná and the coast. Having been built in five years (from 1880 to 1885), this railroad represents one of the greatest works in national engineering, made possible thanks to the engineers and brothers Antonio and André Rebouças. Man labor of immigrants was heavily used, for they had come since the middle of the 18th century.
Curitiba benefited, during the beginning of the 20th century, from the wealth that came from the maté mills. The owners of these mills, known as "Maté Barons", built residential mansions in the capital, which have been preserved, to a large extent, in two important areas, in the districts of Batel and Alto da Glória. The next economic cycle that came was that of the monoculture of coffee, which made cities crop up in the northern region of the state of Paraná, having an evident impact on the capital's economy.
Suffering the relentless effects of bad weather, coffee crops were gradually substituted by soybeans. Eventually, coffee crops were completely wiped out in the worst frost documented in the region, known as the Black Frost of July, 1975. The mechanized agriculture of soybean crops drove agricultural workers off of the land. Curitiba received great waves of immigrants. The city had to make swift decisions in order to avoid urban chaos and to foresee future demands. Curitiba invested in urban planning and in city management focused on the dwellers. The cycle of cattle drives lasted for more than two centuries. With it, came many distinct cultural features now part of the Paraná region, especially the unique accent noticeable by pronounced Es and Ts. For three days in 1969, Curitiba was Brazil's capital.