The northern part of the state lies on the southern slopes of the elevated plateau extending southward from São Paulo across the states of Paraná and Santa Catarina, and is much broken by low mountain ranges whose general direction across the trend of the slope gives them the appearance of escarpments. A range of low mountains extends southward from the Serra do Mar of Santa Catarina and crosses the state into Uruguay. West of this range is a vast grassy plain devoted principally to stock-raising — the northern and most elevated part being suitable in pasturage and climate for sheep, and the southern for cattle. East of it is a wide coastal zone only slightly elevated above the sea; within it are two great estuarine lagoons, the Lagoa dos Patos and Lagoa Mirim, which are separated from the ocean by two sandy, partially barren peninsulas. The coast is one great sand beach, broken only by the outlet of the two lakes, called the Rio Grande, which affords an entrance to navigable inland waters and several ports. There are two distinct river systems in Rio Grande do Sul - that of the eastern slope draining to the lagoons, and that of the La Plata basin draining westward to the Uruguay River.
The larger rivers of the eastern group are the Jacuí, Sinos, Caí, Gravataí and Camacuã, which flow into the Lagoa dos Patos, and the Jaguarão which flows into the Lagoa Mirim. All of the first named, except the Camaquã, discharge into one of the two arms or estuaries opening into the northern end of Lagoa dos Patos, which is called the Guaíba River, though in reality it is not a river.
The Guaíba River is broad, comparatively deep and about long, and with the rivers discharging into it affords upwards of of fluvial navigation. The Jacuí is one of the most important rivers of the state, rising in the ranges of the Coxilha (Cuchilla) Grande of the north and flowing south and southeast to the Guaíba estuary, with a course of nearly It has two large tributaries, the Vacacaí from the south and the Taquari from the north, and many small streams. The Jaguarão, which forms part of the boundary line with Uruguay, is navigable up to and beyond the town of Jaguarão.
In addition to the Lagoa dos Patos and Lagoa Mirim there are a number of small lakes on the sandy, swampy peninsulas that lie between the coast and these two, and there are others of a similar character along the northern coast. The largest lake is the Lagoa dos Patos (Lake of the Patos - an Indian tribe inhabiting its shores at the time of European discovery), which lies parallel with the coastline, northeast and southwest, and is about long exclusive of the two arms at its northern end, 25 and long respectively, and of its outlet, the Rio Grande, about long. Its width varies from 22 to . The lake is comparatively shallow and filled with sand banks, making its navigable channels tortuous and difficult. The Lagoa Mirim occupies a similar position farther south, on the Uruguayan border, and is about long by 6 to wide. It is more irregular in outline and discharges into Lagoa dos Patos through a navigable channel known as the São Gonçalo Channel. A part of the lake lies in Uruguayan territory, but its navigation, as determined by treaty, belongs exclusively to Brazil. Both of these lakes are evidently the remains of an ancient depression in the coastline shut in by sand beaches built up by the combined action of wind and current. They are of the same level as the ocean, but their waters are affected by the tides and are brackish only a short distance above the Rio Grande outlet.
Fully one-third of the state belongs to the La Plata drainage basin. Of the many streams flowing northward and westward to the Uruguay, the largest are the Ijuí of the plateau region, the Ibicuí, which has its source near Santa Maria in the central part of the state and flows westward to the Uruguay a short distance above Uruguaiana, and the Quaraí River which forms part of the boundary line with Uruguay. The Uruguay River itself is formed by the confluence of the Canoas and Pelotas rivers. The Pelotas, which has its source in the Serra do Mar on the Atlantic coast, and the Uruguay River forms the northern and western boundary line of the state down to the mouth of the Quaraí, on the Uruguayan frontier.
In 1865 a Paraguayan army invaded the state and on 5 August occupied the town of Uruguaiana. In the following year in September, however, the Paraguayan General Estigarribia surrendered without a fight — an unusual occurrence in the War of the Triple Alliance.
Political agitation was frequent in Rio Grande do Sul, but no important revolution occurred after the Ponche Verde Treaty in 1845 until the presidency at Rio de Janeiro of General Floriano Peixoto, whose ill-considered interference with state governments led to the revolt of 1892-94, under Gumersindo Saraiva. In this struggle the revolutionaries occupied Santa Catarina and Paraná, capturing Curitiba, but were eventually overthrown through their inability to obtain munitions of war. An incident in this struggle was the death of Admiral Saldanha da Gama, one of the most brilliant officers of the Brazilian navy and one of the chiefs of the naval revolt of 1893-94, who was killed in a skirmish on the Uruguayan border towards the end of the conflict.
In 1738 the territory (which included the present state of Santa Catarina) became the Capitania d'el Rei and was made a dependency of Rio de Janeiro. Territorial disputes between Spain and Portugal led to the occupation by the Spanish of the town of Rio Grande (then the capital of the capitania) and neighbouring districts from 1763 to 1776, when they reverted to the Portuguese. The capture of Rio Grande in 1763 caused the removal of the seat of government to Viamão at the head of Lagoa dos Patos; in 1773 Porto dos Cazaes, renamed Porto Alegre, became the capital. In 1801 news of war between Spain and Portugal led the inhabitants of Rio Grande to attack and capture the seven missions and some frontier posts held by the Spaniards since 1763; since 1801 the boundary lines established by treaty in 1777 have remained unchanged.
The districts of Santa Catarina and Rio Grande had been separated in 1760 for military convenience, and in 1807 the latter was elevated to the category of a capitania-geral, with the designation of "Sao Pedro do Rio Grande," independent of Rio de Janeiro, and with Santa Catarina as a dependency. In 1812 Rio Grande and Santa Catarina were organized into two distinct comarcas, the latter becoming an independent province in 1822 when the Empire of Brazil was organized.
In the far western area of the state are the remnants of Brazil's 17th century Jesuit missions or reductions (aldeias) to the Guaraní Indians. Important to the region, it should be noted that Jesuit Father Roque Gonzales, also known as Roque Gonzales de Santa Cruz, who arrived from Paraguay on the 3rd of May of 1626 to establish the Saint Nicolas mission (today known as São Nicolau), was the first white person to enter in what is today know as the state of Rio Grande do Sul. Of all the ruins left behind by the vanished Guarani Missions, the most significant one is São Miguel or São Miguel Arcanjo, located nearby the present city of Santo Ângelo. There is an ongoing Light and Sound (or Som e Luz in Portuguese) show presented at the ruins of the São Miguel church. Originally part of Uruguayan territory, it was lost in the Uruguayan struggle for independence. Uruguay could have lost all of the Rio Grande do Sul area if not for the help of Argentina, which wanted to defeat Brazil. Getulio Vargas, who led Brazil as dictator from 1930 and later was elected president in 1950, was a native of Rio Grande do Sul.
According to the IBGE of 2007, there were 10,984,000 people residing in the state. The population density was 38.9 inh./km².
The last PNAD (National Research for Sample of Domiciles) census revealed the following numbers: 8,973,928 White (81.7%), 1,405,952 Pardo (Brown) people (12.8%), 560,000 Black (5.1%), 43,000 Asian or Amerindian people (0.4%).
People of Portuguese ancestry predominate in the coast and southern parts of the state, mainly of Gaucho and Azorean background. People of German descent predominate in the Sinos Valley (Novo Hamburgo, São Leopoldo, etc) and in parts of the centre and western regions. People of Italian descent predominate in the mountains (Serra Gaúcha, Caxias do Sul, Bento Gonçalves, etc) and in parts of the centre and western regions. There are sizeable communities of Poles and Ukrainians across the state.
People of African ancestry are concentrated in the capital city and in some towns in the south, such as Pelotas and Rio Grande. The southern part of the state has a sizeable population of Amerindian features.
The region what is now Rio Grande do Sul was originally settled by Amerindian peoples, mostly Guaraní and Kaingangs. European settlement started in 1627 with Spanish Jesuits. Portuguese Jesuits established Indian Reductions in 1687 and dominated the region. Most of the Indians of the region became Catholics and went to live among the Jesuits. These reductions were destroyed by the Bandeirantes from São Paulo in the 18th century, who wanted to enslave the Indians. The Portuguese settlement in Rio Grande do Sul was largely increased between 1748 and 1756, with the arrival of two thousand immigrants from the Azores Islands, Portugal. They settled many parts of the state, including the nowadays capital, Porto Alegre. Blacks were 50 percent of Rio Grande do Sul's population in 1822. This proportion decreased to 25 percent in 1858 and to only 5.2 percent in 2005. Most of them were brought from Angola to work as slaves in the cattle farms. Nowadays, the black community is mostly concentrated in the Porto Alegre region.
German immigrants first arrived to Southern Brazil in 1824. They were attracted to Brazil to protect the country from invasions of the neighboring countries and to populate the empty interior of the southern region. The first city to be settled by them was São Leopoldo. In the next five decades, around 28 thousand Germans were brought to the region to work as small farmers in the countryside.
Italian immigrants started arriving in Rio Grande do Sul in 1875. They were mostly poor peasants from Veneto, Northern Italy, who were attracted to Southern Brazil to get their own farms. Italian immigration to the region lasted until 1914, with a total of 100 thousand Italians settling there in this period. Most of the immigrants worked as small farmers, mainly cultivating grapes in the Serra Gaúcha part of the state.
The industrial sector is the largest component of GDP at 42.6%, followed by the service sector at 41.1%. Agriculture represents 16.3% of GDP (2004). Rio Grande do Sul exports: footweares 18.1%, soybean 14.2%, tobacco 13.6%, vehicles 8.1%, frozen meat 7.2%, chemicals 6.8%, leather 5.3% (2002).
Share of the Brazilian economy: 6.7% (2005).
One of the most prosperous Brazilian states, Rio Grande do Sul is known especially for grain production, viticulture, ranching, and for its considerable industrial output. Constituting less than 6 percent of the total Brazilian population. The main products exported by Rio Grande do Sul are shoes, tobacco, automobiles, grains, beef, leather, and chemicals. Natives of the state are known as Gaúchos, named after the cattle herders and ranchers who settled the state's pampa regions.
With 37.6 thousand square meters of constructed area and four levels, the passenger terminal at Porto Alegre International Airport can receive 28 large airplanes simultaneously. The terminal has 32 check-in counters, ten boarding bridges, nine elevators and ten escalators. It has a totally automated aircraft movement control center and the main spaces are air conditioned. The apron, surfaced with prestressed concrete, can serve jumbo jets like the Boeing 747-400. The garage structure has eight levels, 44 thousand square meters and 1,440 parking spaces. Another terminal, with 15 thousand square meters and capacity for 1.5 million passengers a year, serves general, executive and third-tier aviation (conventional piston-engine and turboprop planes). Porto Alegre Airport was the first one administered by Infraero to have integrated check-in. This service offers flexibility in use of terminal facilities and installations, enabling carriers to access their own data centers via shared-use computers from any check-in counter position. This makes it much easier to allocate counter space according to demand fluctuations, making for less idle space. The Aeroshopping area – a center for commerce and leisure – operates 24 hours a day with shops, services, a food court, along with a triplex cinema, the first to be established at a Brazilian airport. Salgado Filho International Airport also has an air cargo terminal, built in 1974, with 9,500 thousand square meters of area and capacity to handle 1,500 tons of export cargo and 900 tons of imports each month. The average daily movement (arrivals and departures) is 174 aircraft, flying scheduled routes connecting Porto Alegre directly or indirectly to all the country’s other major cities, as well as smaller cities in the interior of the states of the South Region and São Paulo. There are also international flights with direct connections to cities of the Southern Cone.
Kraemer International Airport opened on July 5, 1946, this airport came under Infraero administration on October 27, 1980. It is located in the rural zone of Bagé, 60 km from the Uruguayan border and 380 km from Porto Alegre. Comandante Gustavo Kraemer International Airport does not operate with scheduled commercial flights. There are two daily flights carrying bank pouches, as well as air taxi services and executive jets. Most of the airport’s users are businesspeople from the central part of Brazil who have interests in the region in breeding thoroughbred English and Arabian horses, cattle ranching, fruit growing, wine making, wood pulp and power generation.
Located on the border with Argentina (at Paso de los Libres), Uruguaiana is considered the major inland port in Latin America, thanks to its strategic position with the countries of Mercosur. Rubem Berta International Airport, however, does not operate any scheduled regional flights – a situation Infraero intends to change, as was confirmed in an official visit to the airport in December 2004. With more than 700 thousand square meters of constructed area, it is the largest airport in the interior of the state of Rio Grande do Sul. There are two highways, BR-290 and BR-472, running near the airport, besides a railroad line about 2,500 meters from the terminal. Located 9 km from the city center, this airport is at an elevation of 78 meters and the average annual temperature is 20C, with a good deal of variation from summer to winter. Located 630 km from the state capital (Porto Alegre), Uruguaiana was founded on May 29, 1746, and has a current population of 126,936. Farming and ranching are the main economic activities of the region, which has 1,509 rural properties.
The state of Rio Grande do Sul is renowned as one of the most culturally rich states of Brazil. Rio Grande's music is a blend of many styles (Prata's Rhythms in the main), including the Chamamé, Milonga, Polca and Chacarera. The inhabitants of the state are famous in the country for drinking chimarrão, a local version of the mate drunk in neighbouring Uruguay and Argentina. The barbecue, locally known as "churrasco", is one of the most important elements of everyday life.
Each region of the state has its own cultural background. In the pampas, the culture is still largely influenced by the old Gaúchos. Gaúcho is term that can describe anyone born in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. However, it is also used to describe the 19th century rural workers of the region, as a loose equivalent to the North American cowboy, the Venezuelan or Colombian llanero, Chilean huaso, or the Mexican vaquero.
Other parts of the state have a "post-Gaúcho" culture, influenced mainly by German or Italian immigrants. After some generations, the descendants of immigrants were integrated in the local society, even though their cultural influences are still strong, mostly in the countryside.
As in all Brazil, Portuguese is the main spoken language. The Portuguese spoken in Rio Grande do Sul, however, has some peculiarities. Expressions of Spanish origin are common, due to the proximity with Argentina and Uruguay and their common Gaucho past. Scholars report Rio Grande do Sul's inhabitants speak Portuguese with a Spanish accent (particularly Rioplatense Spanish, spoken in parts of Argentina and Uruguay). Examples of the Spanish language influence in the local Portuguese can be noticed in many local expressions, such as "buenacho", which means "very good" and comes from Spanish "bueno; "afeitar", in English "to shave"; "regalar", in English "to give a gift" and also the use of Spanish "mui" (which means "very") instead of Portuguese "muito", etc.
Words of Indian Guarani language origin also make up the vocabulary. Example is the largely used word "guri", which comes from Tupi-Guarani, meaning "boy" in English.
There are influences of the German and Italian languages and dialects, specially in rural communities. Scholars report that elderly generations usually speak Portuguese with a heavy German or Italian accent.
The first German immigrant families arrived in Rio Grande do Sul in 1824 at the town of São Leopoldo, and within the next one hundred years an estimated quarter of a million Germans settled in Brazil, mostly in Rio Grande do Sul and the neighboring state of Santa Catarina.
Most of the German speakers in southern Brazil spoke or eventually adopted the Hunsrückisch dialect so that it became the most commonly used German dialect in this part of the world and is still spoken by millions today (also referred to as Riograndenser Hunsrückisch to differentiate it from the Hunsrückisch spoken in Germany).
In its 180 years of history Riograndenser Hunsrückisch has been greatly influenced by other German dialects (such as Pomeranian, Pfälzisch) and by immigrant languages such as the national language, Portuguese but also to some degree by Italian.
Talian is a uniquely Brazilian variety of Italian not spoken anywhere else in the world. The emergence of Talian in Rio Grande do Sul happened because of the great variety of Italian dialects that came together into a fairly compact and specific geographical location of the state. Talian is frequently called Vêneto because it is close to the Venetian language spoken in Italy's Veneto region.
Italian immigrants began arriving in the area in the late 1800s, settling mostly in the hilly Northeastern parts of Rio Grande do Sul. Soon the region became the most important grape and wine-producing region in Brazil. Although the climate does not favor the production of the finest wines, the last few years have seen great progress in winemaking, especially with white sparkling wines.
All minority languages in southern Brazil have experienced a significant degree of decline in the last few decades, not only immigrant languages such as Italian or Talian and German, but also the indigenous languages of the Kaingang (also spelled Kaingáng, Cainguangue, etc.) and the Guaraní.
In the communities settled by people of German or Italian descent, the inhabitants usually mix Portuguese with their native languages. However, in the 1930s, when former president Getúlio Vargas declared war against Italy and Germany, the usage of their maternal languages was forbbiden in Brazil. Scholars report that, since then, immigrants and their descendants started to avoid speaking their maternal languages.
Rio Grande do Sul has a great potential for tourism palaeontological, with many palaeontological sites and museums in the geopark of paleorrota. There is a large area in the center of the state that belongs to the triassic. Here lived Rhynchosaur, thecodonts, exaeretodons, Staurikosaurus, Guaibasaurus, Saturnalia tupiniquim, Sacisaurus, Unaysaurus and many others. Paleorrota is in Santa Maria Formation and Caturrita Formation.
Ecotourism is very popular in the Germanesque cities of Gramado and Canela; their cold weather is among their attractions for internal tourism. Tourism is also high in the wine regions of the state, principally Caxias do Sul and Bento Gonçalves. The pampas of the native Brazilian gaúcho are both a national and international curiosity to tourists and their customs are alive in the capital city of Porto Alegre as well as in the cities of the "interior" or western Rio Grande do Sul such as Santa Maria and Passo Fundo. The state is also home to the historic São Miguel das Missões, the ruins of an 18th century Jesuit Mission. In the city of Nova Prata, in way the native bush, you find a park thematic, with sources that gush out thermal waters in a temperature of 41°C, which possess excellent medicinal properties and therapeutical. The state of Rio Grande do Sul and its cities have developed a series scenic routes to appeal to tourists. The Rota Romântica is a popular scenic drive that exhibits the diverse Germanic culture of the mountainous regions of the state referred to as the Serra Gaúcha. One can visit the state's Italian settlements through Caminhos da Colônia, tour the wine country through the Rota da Uva e do Vinho and visit a subsection of the Rota Romântica called the Região das Hortênsias, the region filled with beautiful blue hydrangea flowers each spring.
Porto Alegre (the state's capital city), Caxias do Sul, Pelotas, Canoas, Santa Maria, São Leopoldo, Novo Hamburgo, Rio Grande, Passo Fundo, Osório, Santa Cruz do Sul, Erechim, Gravataí, Bento Gonçalves, Nova Prata, Uruguaiana, Livramento, Gramado, Igrejinha, Nova Petropolis, Canela and Bagé.