As one of the most prosperous and organized cities in Brazil, founded in 1693 as a gold-mining camp, Curitiba was of little importance until 1853 when it was made capital of Parana.
Since then, the city's population has steadily risen from a few thousand, reaching 140,000 in 1940 and some 1.5 million today, many with European ancestry. The inhabitants are descendants of Polish, German, Italian and other immigrants who settled in Curitiba and in surrounding villages that have since been engulfed by the expanding metropolis. On average, Curitibanos enjoy Brazil's highest standard of living: the city boasts health, education and public transport facilities that are the envy of other parts of the country.
There are favelas, but they're well hidden and, because of the cool, damp winters, sturdier than those in cities to the north. The wooden houses of Curitiba's lower and middle classes often resemble those of frontier homesteads and frequently betray their inhabitants' Central or Eastern European origins. As elsewhere in Brazil, the rich live in mansions and luxury condominiums, but even these are a little less ostentatious, and need fewer security precautions, than usual.
Many 19th and early 20th century buildings have been saved from the developers who, since the 1960s, have ravaged most Brazilian cities, and there's a clearly defined historic quarter where colonial buildings have been preserved.
Much of the center is closed to traffic and, in a country where the car has become a symbol of development, planners from all over Brazil and beyond, come to Curitiba to discover how a city can function effectively when pedestrians and buses are given priority. Thanks in part to the relative lack of traffic, it's a pleasure just strolling around and, what's more, you can wander around the city, day or night, in safety.
The emphasis in Curitiba is protecting the environment with innovative urban planning and many parks and gardens.