In the place where conquistadors once searched for the legendary El Dorado, in the 19th Century Brazilians found rubber and Manaus was cut from the lush vegetation. For a brief, dazzling period, Manaus became the richest city in the world. Pioneers flooded into the jungle, creating the boom town.
When the rubber boom collapsed, Manaus fell into a decline that was only broken in 1967, when it became a duty-free zone. The most famous and bizarre monument to Manaus' boom days is the grand opera house, the Teatro Amazonas. Materials were imported exclusively from Europe: white marble from Italy, iron pillars from England, and polished wood from France. The sumptuous interior has four levels of Corinthian-columned balconies with red velvet chairs.