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Conquest, decadence and ruthless ambition: the story behind Manaus, 'Paris of the Tropics'

The opera house in Manaus, a city nicknamed the 'Paris of the Tropics'
The opera house in Manaus, a city nicknamed the 'Paris of the Tropics' Credit: iStock

If the story of Manaus was as an opera, the libretto of this Amazonian city celebrating its 350th anniversary would be a riches-to-rags tale of conquest, decadence, ruthless ambition, and a bio-pirate who brought the once second richest city in the world to its knees. 

Captain Francisco da Motta Falcão founded Manaus in 1669, building a fort to consolidate Portugal’s Amazonian possession from Dutch and British incursions. The discovery of native rubber trees then ushered in a golden era of prosperity between 1870–1913. European rubber barons enriched Manaus with Belle Époque splendour, including an opera house, Teatro Amazonas, which hosted its inaugural performance in 1897 – Ponchielli’s La Gioconda, sung by Italian tenor, Ernesto Caruso.

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