Ribeirão Preto, pop. ~620,000 (2012), alt. 547 m (1,791 ft)
Weather: Tropical with dry winter (Apr.-Sept.) and rainy summer (Oct.-Mar.)
Temp. range: Winter: 10°C-35°C (50F-95F); Summer: 22°C-40°C (72F-104F)
The city of Ribeirão Preto was founded June 19, 1856, by farmers coming from the southeast of São Paulo State in search of good climate and soil for coffee growing. The city was laid by a stream (or creek) called “Black Stream”, and was named after it (ribeirão preto means black stream in Portuguese). Eventually the farmers’ choice revealed itself as very adequate and the fertile soil of the Ribeirão Preto region allowed the highest crop productivity in Brazil.
The rapid development of the coffee cultivation brought wealth and progress to the city, which by the 1880s had become the largest coffee producer in the world. Coffee, the “green gold” as it was called, was responsible for a kind of “gold rush” in the region, which attracted workers and adventurous people from several parts of the world. This movement was helped by the new “Mogiana” railway, which linked Ribeirão Preto to São Paulo and to the port city of Santos, and the abolition of slavery in Brazil, in 1888. The end of slavery created a strong demand for labor and the “coffee barons”, as the coffee farmers were called, stimulated European immigration – mostly from Italy but also from Portugal, Spain and Germany- to Ribeirão Preto. Later, after the stock market crash of 1929, several of these immigrants bought the farms from their indebted former employers.
At the beginning of the XX Century and during its first three decades Ribeirão Preto was a rich city boasting several mansions, European-style cafés, cabarets and even two opera houses. One of the opera houses – the Carlos Gomes Theatre – was demolished in 1949 but the other – the Pedro II Theatre, dating from the 1920s – resisted time and was restored and modernized during the 1990s. Its ceiling, completely destroyed in a fire of 1980, was rebuilt and gained a new design projected by the Japanese-Brazilian artist Tomie Ohtake. The Pedro II Theatre is now the third largest opera house in Brazil and is the home of the Ribeirão Preto Symphony Orchestra, one of the oldest and more important of Brazil.
An important fact for the city life happened in 1911 with the opening of its first factory, the Antarctica Brewery Company. It was Antarctica which built the Pedro II Theatre. The Antarctica factory led to the opening of several beer houses in the city and one of them, Pinguim (penguin in Portuguese), became particularly famous and made Ribeirão Preto nationally renowned for the quality of its draught beer (chope or chopp in Brazilian Portuguese). But Pinguim is not the only one good beerhouse in Ribeirão Preto. Ribeirão Preto is a hot climate city, which makes people like to go out of their houses in the evenings to chat and enjoy cold draught beers in bars. Therefore, the city is teemed with bars of different kinds for different tastes, from the simple botequins or botecos that one can find in almost every corner to more sophisticated bars which rival with their counterparts in São Paulo or Rio. In particular, the city has some of the best microbreweries of Brazil (Colorado, Invicta and Lund Microbreweries), which produce a range of beer types including IPAs, porters, weissenbiers and pilsners.
After the New York Stock Exchange crack of 1929 the economy of Ribeirão Preto, based on a single export crop, collapsed and the city had to adapt to a new situation. Since the city is relatively far from other major Brazilian urban centers it found a new economic vocation in the services and commercial sector, which was developed to attend the local and regional demands.
A noteworthy fact is that it was during the economic stagnation period from the 1940s to the 1950s that the city discovered and established its vocation as an educational and university center. In 1942 the state government expropriated the Monte Alegre Farm, which was an important coffee farm from the Schmidt family of German immigrants, to transform it into an agricultural practical school. Several new buildings and houses for the professors were constructed over a land which held before tens of thousands of coffee plants. The new school was very well planned and urbanized and many trees were planted to provide shadow and give it a pleasant atmosphere. But the agricultural school never achieved a significant development and it was closed in 1951. A longstanding dream of the population of Ribeirão Preto was to have an university and in 1952 the old farm was donated to the University of São Paulo for the creation of a medical school, which was the first school of its campus at Ribeirão Preto .
Fortunately, many original buildings of the agricultural school and even some of the Monte Alegre Farm were preserved and only adapted to hold the new university, which makes its campus one of the most beautiful university campuses in Brazil. After the creation of the medical school the University of São Paulo at Ribeirão Preto (USP-RP) has been growing steadily and it is presently constituted by eight schools: School of Medicine (FMRP), School of Philosophy, Sciences and Letters (FFCLRP), School of Dentistry (FORP), School of Economics, Administration and Accounting (FEARP), School of Pharmaceutical Sciences (FCFRP), School of Nursing (EERP), School of Law (FDRP) and School of Physical Education and Sports (EEFERP).
The creation of USP-RP stimulated the cultural and academic life in Ribeirão Preto and several schools, colleges and universities were opened in the city since then. Today, besides USP-RP there are seven other universities and faculties in the city.
The second economic boom in the history of Ribeirão Preto occurred after the oil crisis of the 1970s. The increase in the oil price obliged Brazil to look for alternative means of fueling and the solution found was the alcohol fuel program, or pro-alcohol as it is called. Pro-alcohol led to the development of a technology which allows the use of ethanol (sugarcane alcohol) either as automotive fuel or as a gasoline additive. The latter improves performance and substitutes lead thus decreasing polluting emissions. Due to the pro-alcohol program farmers from the region of Ribeirão Preto were encouraged by government subsidies to grow sugarcane. The high productivity of the land around Ribeirão Preto rapidly placed the region as the largest alcohol and sugar producer of the world, being responsible for 30 percent of Brazil’s sugarcane alcohol fuel.
Contrary to what happened during the city’s first economic boom, this time Ribeirão Preto farmers and entrepreneurs did not concentrate themselves exclusively on a single crop and diversified their investments making the city one of the most important agribusiness centers of Brazil. Besides sugar and alcohol, Ribeirão Preto’s major products are orange juice, cotton, rice, meat, dairy, textiles, machinery, steel, furniture, building materials, agrochemical, pharmaceutical and, of course, beer.
The sugarcane boom brought a new age of prosperity for the city, which was called the “Brazilian California” during the 1980s and early 1990s. On the one hand, this has increased the city’s wealth and turned it into a sophisticated center of services for Brazil and South America but, on the other hand, the image of “el dorado” atracted many migrants from impoverished areas of Brazil leading to a rapid population growth and the appearance of slums (favelas as they are called in Brazil) with all the negative aspects associated to them like drug traffic and high violence and crime rates, an unfortunate fact that Ribeirão Preto shares with all other major Brazilian cities.