According to tradition, the Rio de Janeiro area was visited in Jan., 1502, by Portuguese explorers who believed Guanabara Bay to be the mouth of a river; it was therefore named Rio de Janeiro. It is more likely that the region was discovered in 1504 by Gonçalo Coelho. In 1555 the French Huguenots established a colony, but they were driven out (1560–67) by Mem de Sá, governor-general of the Portuguese colony of Brazil. At the same time the city of São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro was founded by Mem de Sá's cousin. The settlement was captured and held for ransom by the French in 1711. Rio gained importance in the 18th cent., when it was designated the shipping point for all gold from the interior. It replaced Bahia (now Salvador) as the capital of Brazil in 1763 and subsequently became capital of the exiled royal court of Portugal (1808–21), the Brazilian empire (1822), and the federal republic (1889). It was superseded as capital by Brasília in 1960. In 2009 the city was chosen to host the 2016 Summer Olympics.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.