Former Portuguese colony (ca. 1500-1822), once described on old maps as "Portuguese America." Until 1822, the colony of Brazil was Portugal's largest, richest, and most populous colonial territory, and it held the greatest number of overseas Portuguese. Indeed, until 1974, long after Brazil had ceased being a Portuguese colony, the largest number of overseas Portuguese continued to reside in Brazil.
   Discovered in 1500 by Pedro Álvares Cabral, Brazil experienced significant coastal colonization by Portugal only after 1550. As Portugal's world power and colonial position in North Africa and Asia entered a decline, Brazil began to receive the lion's share of her imperial attention and soon dominated the empire. While Portuguese colonization and civilization had an essential impact on the complex making of Brazil, this fact must be put into perspective. In addition to other European (Italian, German, etc.) and Asian (Japanese) immigrants, two other civilizations or groups of civilizations helped to construct Brazil: the Amerindians who inhabited the land before 1500 and black Africans who were shipped to Brazil's coast as slaves during more than three centuries, mainly from west and central Africa. There is a long history of Portuguese military operations to defend Brazil against internal rebellions as well as other colonial intruders. The French, for example, attacked Brazil several times. But it was the Dutch who proved the greatest threat, when they held northeast Brazil from 1624 to 1654, until they were expelled by Portuguese and colonial forces.
   Until the 17th century, Portuguese colonization was largely coastal. By the 18th century, Portuguese groups began to penetrate deep into the hinterland, including an area rich in minerals, the Minas Gerais ("General Mines"). Lisbon extracted the greatest wealth from Brazil during the "golden age" of mining of gold and diamonds from 1670 to 1750. But hefty profits for the king also came from Brazilian sugar, tobacco, cotton, woods, and coffee. By the time of Brazil's independence, declared in 1822, Portuguese America had become far more powerful and rich than the mother country. Only a few years before the break, Brazil had been declared a kingdom, in theory on a par with Portugal. A major factor behind the Brazilian independence movement was the impact of the residence of the Portuguese royal family and court in Brazil from 1808 to 1821.
   What is the Portuguese legacy to Brazil after more than 300 years of colonization? Of the many facets that could be cited, perhaps three are worthy of mention here: the Portuguese language (Brazil is the only Latin American country that has Portuguese as the official language); Portuguese political and administrative customs; and a large community, mostly in coastal Brazil, of overseas Portuguese.

Historical dictionary of Portugal 3rd ed.. . 2014.

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