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Recife History

Recife History
Recife developed in the 17th century as the port for the rich sugar plantations around Olinda. With several rivers and offshore reefs, Recife proved to be an excellent port and began to outgrow Olinda. By the 17th century, Recife and Olinda combined were the most prosperous cities in Brazil, with the possible exception of Salvador (Bahia).

The neighboring Indians had been subdued after brutal warfare, and the colonial aristocracy living in Olinda was raking in profits with its many sugar engenhos (mills). Naturally, all the work was done by slaves.

No European country had managed to grab a part of Brazil from the Portuguese until 1621, when the Dutch, who were active in the sugar trade and knew the lands of Brazil well, set up the Dutch West India Company to get their teeth into the Brazilian cake. A large fleet sailed in 1624 and captured Bahia, but a huge SpanishPortuguese militia of 12,000 men recaptured the city the following year. Five years later the Dutch decided to try again, this time in Pernambuco. Recife was abandoned; the Dutch took the city and by 1640 they had control of a great chunk of the Northeast, from Maranhao to the Rio Sao Francisco.

The Dutch had hoped the sugar planters wouldn't resist their rule, but many Brazilian planters took up arms against the nonCatholic Dutch. In 1654, after a series of battles around Recife, the Dutch finally surrendered. This was the last European challenge to Portuguese Brazil.

Recife prospered after the Dutch were expelled, but in spite of the city's growing economic power, which had eclipsed that of Olinda, political power remained with the sugar planters in Olinda, and they refused to share it. In 1710 fighting began between the filhos da terra (the sugar planters of Olinda) and the mascates (the Portuguese merchants of Recife), the more recent immigrants. The Guerra dos Mascates (War of the Mascates), as it came to be known, was a bloody regional feud between different sections of the ruling class and native Brazilians and immigrants. In the end, with the help of the Portuguese crown and their superior economic resources, the mascates of Recife , gained considerable political clout at the expense of Olinda, which began its long, slow decline.

More dependent on the sugar economy than Rio or Sao Paulo, Recife was eclipsed by these two centers as the sugar economy floundered throughout the 19th century.

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