Accomplishments and Records

Which South American City Was Once the Capital of a European Nation?

A nation’s capital city is not only the seat of its government but is also a center of national pride. If a tourist can visit only one city, the capital is the place to go to see the best of the country’s history and culture.

There are exceptions, of course. Switzerland, for example, has no capital city. We also have the peculiar case of Montserrat, a nation with a ghost town for its capital.

And then there is Portugal.

“Wait a minute,” we hear you protesting. “Portugal’s capital is Lisbon. What’s so unusual about that?” If that is your voice we are hearing, we have the following responses:

  • Whoa! How long have you been standing here in our living room? Seriously, that’s kind of creepy.
  • Yes, Lisbon is the capital of Portugal. You clearly are well educated. Now we just need to work on your manners. Honestly, did you really think it was ok to just stand there, unannounced, as we wrote this article?
  • Lisbon wasn’t always the Portuguese capital. For 13 years, Portugal’s seat of government made a hasty and unscheduled relocation to another part of the world — much like a devoted reader who, for reasons still unknown to us, just showed up in our living room and started asking questions.

When Napoleon Bonaparte’s geographic appetite got too big for France’s borders, Portugal started to worry. The nation’s leaders realized its military was unlikely to withstand the onslaught of a French invasion and quickly threw together plans to keep the royal family and political leaders safe and in power.

On November 29, 1807, a group of nearly 10,000 citizens, including. Queen Maria I, Prince Regent John, the Braganza royal family, its court, and senior government officials, fled from Portugal. Fortunately, they had somewhere to go. Under the protection of the British Royal Navy, their ships sailed 4,791 miles (7,710 km) across the Atlantic Ocean to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The Portuguese delegation declared Rio de Janeiro to be the seat of government for Portugal. Thus it remained for the next 13 years. The Liberal Revolution of 1820 opened the door for John VI to return to Portuguese soil on April 26, 1821.

During that time, Rio attained the distinction of being the only South American city to be the capital city of a European nation. What do you think of that?

Oh… Apparently you left. It would have been nice if you had said something.

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