The city's name, meaning "fortress," is the only visible legacy in modern Fortaleza of its earlier eventual history. The first Portuguese arrived in 1603 and, after clashes with the Indians, restricted themselves to settling in the coastal area. Only with the eventual blazing of cattle trails into the interior was it possible to subdue the hostile Indians.
It was from Fortaleza that the move for independence from Portugal had its beginnings and actual fighting took place between the Portuguese and the local patriots. Prosperity came to the city in the 19th century when ranching was rapidly expanding and Fortaleza became a major port for the hinterland. For decades, however, the most important export was the people of the state, who were transported from here wholesale during drought years to the rubber zones of the Amazon and the cities in southern Brazil.
Today, a sprawling city of almost two million inhabitants, Fortaleza is the capital of the State of Ceara and one of the chief commercial centers of the Brazil's northeast region.
Despite its size, the city's layout is easy to grasp since the center is built in blocks that form the commercial, administrative and religious heart. The original street pattern was designed by a French architect in the 19th century, contracted by the ambitious city fathers who hoped to turn Fortaleza into "the Paris of the North". More recently, the city has made attempts to expand the tourist trade and to encourage the construction of luxury hotels along the city's fine beaches.