Recife (ray-see-fee) is the fifth-largest metropolitan area in Brazil with 3,743,854 inhabitants, the largest metropolitan area of the North/Northeast Regions, the 5th-largest metropolitan influence area in Brazil, and the capital and largest city of the state of Pernambuco. The population of the city proper was 1,555,039 in 2012.
Recife is located where the Beberibe River meets the Capibaribe River to flow into the Atlantic Ocean. It is a major port on the Atlantic Ocean. Its name is an allusion to the coral reefs that are present by the city's shores. The many rivers, small islands and over 50 bridges found in Recife city center characterize its geography and gives it the moniker of the "Brazilian Venice."
The Metropolitan Region of Recife is the main industrial zone of the State of Pernambuco; most relevant products are those derived from cane (sugar and ethanol), electronics, food, and others; thanks to the fiscal incentives of government, many industrial enterprises were started in the 1970s and 1980s. Recife has a tradition of being the most important commercial center of the North/Northeastern region of Brazil with more than 52,500 business enterprises in Recife itself plus 32,500 in the Metro Area which totals more than 85,000.
A combination of a large supply of labor and significant private investments turned Recife into Brazil's second largest medical center (second only to São Paulo); modern hospitals with state-of-the-art equipment receive patients from several neighboring States. Like all other cities in the Northeast, Recife is developing its tourist sector. The beach of Porto de Galinhas, south of the city, has been repeatedly awarded the title of best beach in Brazil and has drawn many tourists. Recife's infrastructure is among the most developed in Brazil for travellers and business people, though there is wide room for improvement.
The city is also a renowned educational center, and home to the Federal University of Pernambuco, the largest university in Pernambuco. Several Brazilian historical figures, such as the poet and abolitionist Castro Alves, moved to Recife to attain their education.
The area around Recife was one of the first in Brazil to be settled by the Portuguese Crown. In 1537, John III of Portugal divided Brazil into Hereditary Captaincies (Capitanias Hereditárias, in Portuguese); the Portuguese realized that they had no human or financial resources to invest in such a large and distant colony, and decided to assign this task to private entrepreneurs, called Donatários (this system had already been successful in the settlement of the Portuguese colonies in Africa).
Because of several problems (the most obvious being the lack of support from the Portuguese metropolis), most Captaincies failed. One of the few to prosper was the Captaincy of Pernambuco, which was assigned to Duarte Coelho Pereira (the man who founded Olinda which has its historic town center considered a World Heritage site by UNESCO and became famous for expressing his enchantment with the beauty of the place, giving the name to the city).
Pernambuco prospered from the sugarcane industry (beet sugar was not industrially produced in Europe until the beginning of the 19th century). At the time, in Europe, sugarcane plantations could be grown only in Andalusia and the Algarve; in the 1420s, sugarcane was carried to the Canary Islands, Madeira and the Azores; the sugar from Brazil was very much appreciated in Europe. Duarte Coelho found in Pernambuco plenty of fertile land and an excellent climate for the cultivation of cane; all he needed was labor to work the crops and to keep the "engenhos" (rustic wooden machinery) moving.
From 1580 to 1640, the kingdoms of Spain and Portugal were unified under the rule of the former. Spain was engaged in a war against the Netherlands, and determined that the Dutch, who were the main distributors of Brazilian sugar in Europe, would be prohibited from coming to Brazil.
The Dutch decided to invade several sugar producing cities in Brazil, including Salvador and Natal. From 1630 to 1654, they took control of Recife and Olinda, making Recife the new capital of Dutch Brazil, the city of Mauritsstad. During this period, Mauritsstad became one of the most cosmopolitan cities of the world. Unlike the Portuguese, the Dutch did not prohibit Judaism. The first Jewish community and the first synagogue in the Americas - Kahal Zur Israel Synagogue - was founded in the city.
The inhabitants fought on their own to expel the Dutch, being helped by the involvement of the Dutch in the First Anglo-Dutch War. This was known as the Insurreição Pernambucana (Pernambucan Insurrection). Most of the Jews fled to Amsterdam; a small number fled to New Amsterdam (now known as New York City), establishing the first Jewish community there.
During the 18th century, riots spread throughout the city, in which the rich farmers of Olinda and the traders from Recife clashed. Recife had a clear advantage in relation to Olinda: Olinda has no harbour, while Recife's Harbor is one of the largest on the Atlantic Ocean. Recife's victory asserted the supremacy of its bourgeoisie over the decadent sugar aristocrats of Olinda. This was a decisive factor for Recife's growth. Recife is now a large city whereas Olinda is a small historical town. Recife is a historical city, distinguished by the opulence of its colonial buildings, with its colonization rooted in different nations; Portugal, the Netherlands, France, England.