Fortaleza, Ceará

History of Fortaleza and Ceará


Brazilian History starts officially on April 22nd 1500, when Portuguese navigator Pedro Álvares Cabral reached the coast of Bahia (there are, however, non-official evidences that other Spanish navigators would have visited the coast of Ceará and Pernambuco before Cabral).
With scarce resources (human and financial) to settle the new found land, the King of Portugal divided the country in captaincies, which were donated to be explored by private enterpreneurs. The Captaincy of Ceará was donated to Antônio Cardoso de Barros, but he didn't even bother to see his lands.

Most of Ceará is located in a semi-arid zone, with little humidity and poor soil; so, in the 16th century, whereas the neighbour province of Pernambuco (see History of Recife and Pernambuco) was prospering with the cultivation of sugar cane, Ceará was completely abandoned, leaving room for corsaries (particularly French) to become friends and do business with the local indians (the indians explored the pau-brazil - national tree of Brazil - and traded it for mirrors and gadgets).
Only in 1603 did the Portuguese send an exploratory mission, commanded by Pero Coelho de Souza, who founded a small fort in the mouth of river Ceará, called Fort of São Tiago (which, strange as it may sound, translates as Fort of Saint James); Coelho de Souza, however, could not cope the hostilities of the indians and the ruthness of the long drought period in the first decade of that century. In 1612, another Portuguese, Martins Soares Moreno, arrived in Ceará with the mission of fighting the French and defintively claim the lands for the Portuguese Crown; Soares Moreno won the French, expanded the Fort of São Tiago and changed its name to Forte de São Sebastião (Fort of Saint Sebastian).

Fort Schoonenborch

Fort Schoonenborch, by Dutch artist
Algemeen Rijksarchief

In 1630, the Dutch invaded Olinda and Recife. In 1637, the Dutch took Natal (see History of Natal); also in 1637, the Dutch took the Fort of São Sebastião and dominated Ceará; in 1644, Portuguese and the indians fight the Dutch, and the Fort of São Sebastião is destroyed.
In 1649, the Dutch built another fort, by the banks of river Pajeú, and called it Fort Schoonenborch. In 1654, the Dutch are expelled from Brazil; the Portuguese take Schoonenborch, and change its name to Fortaleza de Nossa Senhora de Assunção (Fortress of Our Lady of Assumption).

A village grew around the Fortress, and was eventually named Fortaleza. On April 13th 1726, Fortaleza became capital of Ceará; the anniversary of the city is celebrated this date.
Even though the Portuguese had fought hard to reclaim Ceará from the Dutch, there was not much interest in develop the area.
The arid climate and the sandy soil prevented the cultivation of sugar cane; later on, when gold was found in the central States, the administration of Brazil was moved to Rio de Janeiro, even further from Ceará.

For centuries, the economy of Ceará was based on three factors: agriculture of subsistence; the cattle raising, in the interior lands of the State; and the production of salt, in the eastern coast of the State.
The cattle was essential for the prosperity of the sugar cane farms: the beef fed the people who worked in the farms; the leather was used for making of clothes; and cows and horses were used as power sources and means of transportation.
The strong winds which blow in Ceará and the high salinity of the sea make the eastern coast an ideal area for production of marine salt. The salt was used for cooking and for food conservation (salt retains water, making the proliferation of micro organisms more difficult). The combination of beef and salt was the origin of the carne de sol (jerked beef), until today one of the most typical regional dishes of Ceará.

In 1799, Ceará became a province (until then, it was subordinated to the Province of Pernambuco); during the Empire period (1822 - 1889), Fortaleza gained the status of city, and some administrators (notably Antônio Rodrigues Ferreira and Adolfo Hebster) conducted the urbanization of the city.
However, the massive poverty and the sense of abandonment of Ceará and other neighbour provinces led to the occurrence of several popular upheaval movements, such as the Balaiada (Maranhão, 1830 - 1841) and the Cabanada (Pernambuco, 1832 - 1835), both demanding improvements in social conditions, and the Confederation of Ecuador (Pernambuco, Paraíba, Rio Grande do Norte and Ceará, 1824), which demanded the institution of a Republic, instead of an Empire.
After the upheavals were controlled, another movement gained force in Ceará: the freedom of slaves. As the cane farms, which use intensive slave manpower, didn't prosper in Ceará, the province wouldn't be much affected by the abolishion of slavery. In 1884, the province was the first one in Brazil to abolish slavery; the figure of Dragão do Mar was protagonist of this chapter of History.

In 1889, a Federative Republic was proclaimed in Brazil. With the Federalism, the now State of Ceará had voice to claim for more official funding, but the lack of natural resources and competitive hedges kept preventing economic progress. Besides, in the first decades of the Republic, the political power was exercized by the richer States of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais, which had little concern for the northern States.
In 1930, in an reaction against the dominant oligarchies, Getúlio Vargas becomes President with dictatorial power; in 1945, after Vargas is overthrown, Brazil is more of a Federative Republic, with preoccupations about the social economic inequalities.
In 1952, President Vargas (this time elected by the vote) created the Banco do Nordeste do Brasil, with headquarters in Fortaleza, to provide credit to new enterprises in the Northeast of Brazil. In 1959, President Juscelino Kubitschek creates SUDENE, the Superintendence for Development of the Northeast, with the function of fostering projects of social interest (recently, SUDENE was reformatted and turned into ADENE).
Despite charges of corruption, the funds of BNB and SUDENE indeed helped the economy of the region. During the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, some industries flourished, like shoes, textile, food processing, agriculture, petroleum and other minerals. Ceará, however, remained as one of the States with poorest economy and worst social indicators.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Ceará (and Fortaleza in particular) found their true avocation: the tourism. Word of mouth about the beautinesses of the State, along with marketing campaigns in Brazilian media turned Fortaleza into one of the most popular destinations in Brazil. Heavy investments, both private and official, improved the infrastructure of tourism (roads, airport, hotels, restaurants, police, etc). The foreigners arrived next, both to invest and to enjoy.

Since the early 1990s, the successive governments have been recognized as ethical and efficient, improving social and economic indicators. Ceará today is a State with excellent perspectives.

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