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Ilhabela

History

Historic Tours / Brazil – 14 sambaquis, with estimated ages of approximately 2.000 years before Christ, give evidence for the presence of prehistoric collectors and fishermen on the archipelago of São Sebastião / Ilhabela.

During Brazil's indigenous history, Ilhabela was part of the Tupinambá / Tamoio territory, close to the limit with the hostile Tupiniquim. In Tupi - Guarani, the island was called Maembipe which means “trading place for prisoners and mercancies" (see also Hans Staden). An arqueological program could identify the existence of two Indian villages on Ilhabela.

Based on the notes of Italian explorer Américo Vespúcio, participant of the first Portuguese exploratory expedition after the finding of Ilha da Vera Cruz by Pedro Álvares Cabral, Ilhabela was discovered on January 20, 1502. It was baptized São Sebastião Island (until today its official name) because January 20 is the feast day of this saint.

Due to the strong presence of European pirates and corsairs during the second half of the 16th century, the Portuguese crown prohibited for a long time the settlement on Brazil's offshore islands. This explains, why the first settlement on Ilhabela, in form of so - called (sesmarias) only started in the beginning of the 17th century. The ruins of the Ponta das Canas fortification, north of the island, are the remnants of one of the seven fortifications that during that time were constructed on both sides of the São Sebastião channel in order to protect Ilhabela from the pirate's atacks.

Ilhabela's population only increased significantly with the beginning of the coffee cycle during the second half of the 18th century. A little settlement, that was first called Capela de Nossa Senhora D´Ajuda e Bom Sucesso and from 1806 on Vila Bela da Princesa surged at the location of the island's actual tourist center.

During the whole 19th century, the coffee production in about 30 fazendas brought wealth and prosperity to Ilhabela and its population increased to 10.000 people. In order to provide sufficient labor force, African slave trafficing, which at that time was internationally already banned, continued to take place unofficially from Castelhanos Bay, on the other side of the island. With the definite abolishment of slavery in 1888, Ilhabela's coffee production and its economy declined.

It was only revived during the first quarter of the 20th century with the sugar cane spirit (cachaça) production in about 13 mills (engenhos). Tourism, principally the ecotourism increased from 1970 on with the construction of the coastal road from Rio de Janeiro to Santos road and the parallel decline of the sugar cane industry – Brazil Tours / Culture.

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