Belém (bəlāNˈ) [key] or Pará pəräˈ, city (1996 pop. 1,142,258), capital of Pará state, N Brazil, on the Pará River. Belém, the chief port of the vast Amazon River basin, handles the Amazonian produce (chiefly Brazil nuts, aluminum, cassava, and pepper) and has processing plants. North Brazil's largest airport and a coastal railroad enhance the trade of Belém, which is also connected with Brasília by a railroad and highway.
Belém [Port., = Bethlehem] was founded by the Portuguese in 1616 as Santa Maria de Belém do Grão Pará and was a military post for the defense of N Brazil against French, English, and Dutch pirates. It reached a peak of feverish prosperity during the wild-rubber boom in the late 19th and early 20th cent., then suffered a depression that was alleviated by diversification and planned development in the 1930s. Prosperity increased also after World War II with the improvement of communications within the Amazon region.
The city is known for its Goeldi museum, with ethnological and zoological collections of the Amazon basin. It also has an open-air market, a botanical garden brilliant with exotic flowers, a modern leprosarium, and the Federal Univ. of Pará. The government palace and the cathedral were built in the 18th cent.; Santo Alexandre, Belém's oldest church, was completed in 1616.