In 1616 the Portuguese built a fortress at the mouth of the Amazon delta to defend its interests in Brazil against British, French and Dutch colonization attempts.
It was from these origins that Belém sprung up.
Its remoteness and strong links to Portugal meant that it was a forgotten city in Brazil until 1835 when a popular revolt against its lack of political significance broke out.
However the discovery of rubber and its importance in the 19th and early 20th century caused Belém to boom. It was during this time that much of Belém's colonial buildings were constructed. It was also during this period that Emilio Goeldi founded his famous ecological museum, today the most important research center into the natural history of the Amazon Rainforest.
Although Belém's primacy as a port has meant there is a large commercial element to the city, recent renovations to the Docks area and Belém's strong cultural heritage mean that it still retains its 19th century charm. It also has numerous excellent museums in the 'Cidade Velha'.
Basilica Santuario de Nazare
The Basilica Santuario de Nazare hosts Brazil's largest religious festival every October and boasts an eye opening interior with an interesting mix of stained glass and marble columns.
Ver o Peso Market
On the riverfront is the famous 'Ver o Peso' market selling everything from medicinal plants to natural loofas. It's a must for any visitor to the city for its atmosphere alone but pick pocketing is unfortunately relatively common.
Nightlife in the city tends to focus on cafés and small live music venues.