Curitiba (Tupi: "Pine Nut Land") 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. The Curitiba Metropolitan area 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 in Curitiba.
Curitiba sports one of few high Brazilian 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 "Brazilian Big City" in which to live.
The first ten years of the 16th century had a war of conquest by Europeans (Portuguese colonists) against the Kaingang and Guarani who inhabited the area of the city. Curitiba's birth is 29 March 1693, when its City Council was founded. At the end of the 17th century, Curitiba's agriculture was only for subsistence. Its main economic activities were mineral extraction. Waves of European immigrants arrived after 1850, mainly Poles, Italians, Germans (mostly from Russia) and Ukrainians. In 1853, the south and southwest of the province of São Paulo were emancipated, forming the new province of Paraná with Curitiba as its capital.
The region's next economic cycle was based on the "tropeiros" ("troopers"): cattlemen who drove their herds from Viamão, in the southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul, to a market in Sorocaba, in the state of São Paulo. From there, the herds were then taken to the state of Minas Gerais. The drovers would spend winter periods in the middle of the journey, in the "campos de Curitiba" (fields of Curitiba). These campsites would be dismantled when the cold season gave way to spring. The drovers would take advantage of their stay to do business, and by doing so, they made Curitiba into an important intermediate trading post. The traditions of wearing wool ponchos, roasting meat and drinking a bitter mate tea called "chimarrão", encouraged a common culture that led people to form groups and settle. The cycle of cattle drives lasted for more than two centuries. With it, came many distinct cultural features of the Paraná region, especially the unique accent noticeable by pronounced Es.
The expanded use of the mate plant and wood at the end of the 19th century stimulated the construction of the Paranaguá-Curitiba railroad. This railroad was the first link between the capital of Paraná and the coast. It was built in five years (from 1880 to 1885). This railroad represents one of the greatest works of national engineering, made possible thanks to the engineers and brothers Antonio and André Rebouças. Immigrant manual labor was heavily used. Immigrants had come to this area since the middle of the 18th century.
Around the beginning of the 20th century, Curitiba benefited from the wealth of the yerba mate mills. The owners (known as "Maté Barons") built mansions in the capital. These have mostly been preserved in the districts of Batel and Alto da Glória.
The next economic cycle was the coffee monoculture. This trade helped found cities in the northern region of the state of Paraná. Coffee was important the capital's economy. Coffee crops suffered from the relentless effects of bad weather. So, farmers gradually replaced coffee by soybeans. Mechanized soybean farming drove agricultural workers off of the land. Eventually, coffee was completely wiped out in the region's worst frost, known as the Black Frost of July, 1975.
During the 20th century, especially after 1950, the city's population rapidly increased. It consolidated its position as a regional hub for trade and services, becoming one of the richest cities in the Southern Cone 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 emphasized a "star" of boulevards, with public amenities downtown, an industrial district and sanitation. It was followed in part, but the plan was too expensive to complete.
When Curitiba received great waves of immigrants, the city was forced to make swift decisions in order to avoid urban chaos and meet future demands. Curitiba invested in urban planning and in city management focused on its residents.