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Why Rio de Janeiro was given its name?

Why Rio de Janeiro was given its name?

Why Rio de Janeiro was given its name? The biggest geographical mistake of Brazilian history. Discover all the history behind the name of Rio de Janeiro

São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro. This is the official name of the second largest city in Brazil! A lot o people ask why Rio de Janeiro has its name? What is the origin of the name? To explain you all the history, we will begin with the discovery of Brazil, in 1500

When Pedro Alvares Cabral, the first European person to get in Brazil, came with a fleet of nine ships, three caravels and a flat boat of groceries. Actually, officially, Cabral was not looking for “new” lands, but wanted to get to India. However, some historians believe that Portugal already knew that there were lands here and on purpose deflected the way and “found out” Brazil.


The flat boat, commanded by Gaspar de Lemos, went back to Portugal with the mission to tell the king that they found new lands. The same Gaspar de Lemos commanded the first exploratory expedition in 1501. The goal was to recognition of Terra de Santa Cruz (that is how Brazil was called by the Portuguese that time).

The expedition started in Rio Grande do Norte (a State in Northeast of Brazil) towards the South. During the expedition, the geographic accidents were named. The names chosen honoured saints of the day or religious parties. On JANUARY 1st of 1502, the expedition got to Guanabara Bay – an ocean bay located where today the city of Rio de Janeiro is.


When the Portuguese spotted the bay they thought it was a river. That is when the biggest geographic mistake of Brazil happened. As they thought they spotted a river in the month of January, they decided to call the place River of January (Rio de Janeiro in Portuguese)

Later, in 1565 the city was officialy founded and earned its first name, São Sebastião (Saint Sebastian). The name was chosen as a tribute to then the king of Portugual, D. Sebastião.

Do you want to know more curities of Rios de Janeiro history? Join our Rio de Janeiro Free Walking tour and find out much more of the history of the city.

Rio Free Walking Tour – Selarón Stairs
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