Recife 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 stone 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." As of 2010, it is the capital city with the highest HDI in Northeast Brazil.
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), ships, oil platforms, electronics, 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, and the Historic Centre of the Town of Olinda, north of the city, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1982. 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 an 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. Recife and Natal are the only Brazilian cities with direct flights to the islands of Fernando de Noronha, World Heritage Site.
Recife began as a collection of fishing shacks, inns and warehouses on the delta between the Capibaribe and Beberibe Rivers in the captaincy of Pernambuco, sometime between 1535 and 1537 in the earliest days of Portuguese colonization of Terra de Santa Cruz, later called Brazil, on the northeast coast of South America. It was a settlement of colonial fishermen and way station for Portuguese sailors. The first documented reference to the settlement with its "arrecife dos navios" (reef of the ships) was in the royal Charter Act of March 12, 1537, establishing Olinda, 6 km to the north, as a village, with its port where the Beberibe River meets the sea. Olinda (and Igarassu before it) had been settled in 1536 by captain General Duarte Coelho, a Portuguese nobleman, proprietor and administrator of the captaincy of Pernambuco.
In 1541, Coelho returned from Portugal with the machinery for an engenho (sugarmill), and with it, his brother-in-law established the first mill named Nossa Senhora da Ajuda (Our Lady of Help), in the floodplain of the Beberibe River at Recife. At that time the banks of the Capibaribe River were covered by sugarcane.
Recife was capital of the 17th century Dutch Brazil.