Sao Paulo, city, capital of Sao Paulo estado (state), south-eastern Brazil. It is the foremost industrial centre in Latin America. The city is located on a plateau of the Brazilian Highlands extending inland from the Serra do Mar, which rises as part of the Great Escarpment only a short distance inland from the Atlantic Ocean. The city itself sits in a shallow basin with low mountains to the west. It lies about 220 miles (350 km) southwest of Rio de Janeiro and about 30 miles (50 km) inland from its Atlantic Ocean port of Santos. The city's name derives from its having been founded by Jesuit missionaries on January 25, 1554, the anniversary of the conversion of St. Paul.
With one of the world's fastest growing metropolitan populations, Sao Paulo is also the largest city of the Southern Hemisphere and one of the largest conurbations in the world. It is a dynamic late bloomer, having been heavily overshadowed by Rio de Janeiro not only during the colonial era but also throughout the 19th century. Only when coffee became Brazil's vital export crop in the last decades of the 19th century did Sao Paulo became a major centre of economic activity with concomitant population growth. Migration, both from Europe and internal led to great expansion and diversification. When Sao Paulo served as the main focus of Brazil's industrialization in the early decades of the 20th century, it rapidly closed the gap with Rio de Janeiro, which shortly before the turn of the century had been 10 times as large.
By the 1940s and '50s, Sao Paulo was aptly referred to as the locomotive "pulling the rest of Brazil" and has since become the hub of an immense megametropolis. Its vibrant and energetic urban core is characterized by an ever growing maze of modern ssteel, concrete, and glass skycrapers in newer hubs within Sao Paulo's business centre, as well as in emergent outlying business districts. The great diversity of these modern buildings-many of which are truly striking-reflects a wide variety of architecural styles and materials. Glass towers of different hues mingle with impressive granite and marble-faced structures next to metal-sheathed ones. the city's creatively eclectic appearance, comparable to that of any of the world's great metropolitan centers, exemplifies the advanced state of Brazilian architecture. In stark contrast to Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, and most other major Brazilian cities, late-blooming Sao Paulo has few historical buildings and virtually no structures dating back to the colonial era. Indeed, any building erected before 1900 is deemed historical in Sao Paulo . Expectations to the lack of antiquity in the midst of 20th and 21st century constructions are the church and convert of Luz (1579), now housing the Museum of Sacred Art; the Carmo Church (1632); and the Sao Fransciso Church (1676, rebuilt in 1791).
By the end of the 20th century, the city of Sao Paulo proper had a population of more than 10 million, and the metropolitan region had soared to about 19 million inhabitants. Area city, 576 square miles (1,493 square km); Greater Sao Paulo, 3070 square miles (7,951 square km).