Juiz de Fora is a city in the southeast of the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, close to the state border with Rio de Janeiro. According to the 2006 estimate the population was 509,125 inhabitants. The area of the municipality is 1,437 km².
The location is strategic for economic growth, between the three most important centers of southeast Brazil: Rio de Janeiro (189 km), Belo Horizonte (260 km) and São Paulo (486 km). Major highways connect Juiz de Fora with these three metropolitan areas, the most important being the BR 040, which connects Brasília with Rio de Janeiro, passing through Belo Horizonte.
Often referred to only as "JF", this traditional city is located in the deep Paraibuna river valley, a major tributary of the Paraíba do Sul, in the Paraíba do Sul basin, between the Órgãos and Mantiqueira ranges.
Although lying close to tropical latitudes, the climate is relatively mild. The altitude of between 700 and 900 meters makes the weather usually cooler and rainier than the lower surrounding area. The climate is classified as Tropical Altitude, with two distinct seasons, one hotter and rainier (October to April) and one cooler and drier (May to September). The average annual temperature is around 19 °C with a maximum of 24 °C and a minimum of 15 °C. It is very humid with average humidity of 80%. The annual rainfall varies between 1,300 mm and 1,500 mm.
Juiz de Fora is the second most important industrial center in the state of Minas Gerais, despite being the fourth largest in terms of population. It was once the state's largest city, position held up until the beginning of the 20th century and it held the second position until the 1990s. There are important steel mills and automotive factories (Mercedes-Benz being the most famous) in the city, along with several textile factories.
The city is also an important trade center, with considerable area of influence, being considered the capital of the Zona da Mata region. It has three shopping malls, several hyper-marts and a myriad of small shops that sell clothes and attract customers from a wide area around the city.
The massive presence of immigrants - especially from Italy, Germany, Syria and Lebanon - throughout its history has given the city a cosmopolitan spirit and diverse cuisine. Walking down Avenida Rio Branco, (a broad and straight avenue several kilometers long) one can find typical German, Italian, Arabic, Portuguese and Indian restaurants, as well as traditional Brazilian and vegetarian cuisine.
Juiz de Fora is an important regional cultural center, the only town in south-east Minas Gerais (one of the few outside the state's capital city metropolitan complex) to have permanently functional cinemas, theatres, music venues and light entertainment. There is a nationally important museum (Museu Mariano Procópio) and a Philharmonic Orchestra (Orquestra Filarmônica Pró-Musica). The city also hosts a yearly classical music festival, the Festival Internacional de Música Brasileira Colonial e Música Antiga (International Festival of Brazilian Colonial Music and Early Music). It is home to the "Meninos Cantores da Academia" the second oldest choir in this category in Brazil. Cultural life is also boosted by a Federal University and several private-owned colleges; making it a popular destination for students. Some of the courses at the Universidade Federal de Juiz de Fora are reputedly among the best in Brazil.
The cultural life of Juiz de Fora is marked by great eclecticism, which can be seen in its architecture. Art Nouveau buildings dating from the first decade of the 20th century are intermingled with those in Art Déco style from the mid-20th century, as well as the architectural art works by Niemeyer.
The origins of Juiz de Fora go back to the beginning of the 18th century, when a road called "Caminho Novo" (New Way) was opened to link Rio de Janeiro to Minas Gerais. The region was covered with dense forest (this why it is still called "Zona da Mata", Forest Zone). Although the way was opened in the early 18th century the region was just an uninhabited zone of passage.
The development of the region would only start after the decline of gold mining in the central zone of Minas Gerais. The capital previously invested in the mines was now invested in coffee plantations, and the region of Zona da Mata became a fertile place to invest. The position of the then-called village of Santo Antônio do Paraibuna was favorable due to the road connection with the capital of the country and its harbour.
In 1850, the small village was elevated to a city. Progress increased with the construction of the modern União e Indústria road in 1861 to replace the Caminho Novo. Five years later the railroad reached the city and in 1889 the first hydroelectric powerplant of Latin America was built on the Paraibuna river.
In the beginning of the 20th century, Juiz de Fora was among the main textile and industrial centers in South America, competing with São Paulo but the city couldn't keep this status for very long. By the 1940s, the city had lost its influence due to the continued growth of Belo Horizonte, the newly-built state capital replacing Ouro Preto.
Today Juiz de Fora is an important commercial center for the surrounding region that has more than 2 million inhabitants.
The population of Juiz de Fora since the first census, in 1872:
1872 - 18,800
1890 - 22,600
1920 - 118,500
1940 - 118,400
1950 - 111,300
1960 - 125,000
1970 - 238,500
1980 - 305,800
1991 - 385,100
1996 - 424,000
2000 - 456,400
2006 - 509,109
2008 - 520,612