The first permanent settlement was made by Duarte Coelho Pereira at Olinda in 1530, and four years later he was granted a capitania of 50 leagues extending from the mouth of the Sao Francisco northward to that of the Iguarassu.
The Sao Francisco forms its northern boundary, and the drainage of the northern part of the state is northward and eastward to that river.
North of the Sao Francisco the watershed projecting from the plateau eastward toward Cape St Roque, known as the Serra da Borborema in Parahyba and Rio Grande do Norte where its direction becomes north-east, leaves a triangular section of the easterly slope in which the river courses are short and much broken by rapids.
Its general elevation is less than that of the Sao Francisco region, owing to the slope of the plateau surface toward the Amazon depression and to denudation.
The capital is Bello Horizonte, or Cidade de Minas; other important cities and towns are: the former capital, Ouro Preto, Barbacena, Diamantina, Baependy (pop. 22,817 in 1890), on the head-waters of the Rio Verde, the centre of a rich tobacco-producing district; Curvello (8071), north of Sabara in the Rio das Velhas Valley, the centre of a cottongrowing district and cotton manufactures; Entre Rios (7681), in the coffee district of south-east Minas; Januaria (5888), a river port of the Sao Francisco in northern Minas; Juiz de Fora; Marianna (4751), an episcopal town east of Ouro Preto, Mar de Hespanha (18,712), the centre of a productive and populous agricultural municipality of south-east Minas; Paracatu (21,418), an important commercial centre of western Minas near the Goyaz frontier; Queluz (12,600), on the Central do Brazil railway; Congonhas do Campo (10,902), in the municipality of Queluz, celebrated for its miracle-working image, its great church and chapels, and the pilgrimages to its shrine; Sabara (4959), a railway junction on the Central do Brazil, and port on the Rio das Velhas; Congonhas de Sabath (14,066), in the municipality of Sabath, where the celebrated Morro Velho gold-mine is situated; Sao Joao d'El-Rei (15,820) an important commercial mining and pastoral centre, near the Rio das Mortes, connected with the Central do Brazil railway by a branch called the Oeste de Minas; and Uberaba (12,231), a commercial town of the western campos of Minas, connected with Sao Paulo by the Mogyana and Sao Paulo railways.
The capital of the state is Florianopolis also called Santa Catharina and Desterro, and its other towns are Blumenau, Lages (9356), Laguna (7282), Joinville (13,996), Itajahy (8875), Brusque (8094), Sao Jose (11,820), opposite Florianopolis, Tubarao (5495) and Sao Francisco (5583), a good port in the northern part of the state in direct communication with a majority of the German colonies.
On the western frontier a northern extension of the great central chain of Goyaz forms the water-parting between the drainage basins of the Sao Francisco and Tocantins, and is known at different points as the Serra do Paranan, Serra de Sao Domingos and Serra das Divisoes.
The foundations were once laid for a great cathedral on the Largo de Sao Francisco de Paula, but the building stone was taken for a neighbouring theatre, and the foundations were afterwards used for the Polytechnic School.
River transport has some local value on the upper Sao Francisco and its larger tributaries, and this will be greatly increased when the Central do Brazil railway reaches the head of navigation on that river.
The Sao Francisco chapadao, which has a general elevation of about 2600 ft., covers the greater part of the states of Minas Geraes and Bahia, and a small part of western Pernambuco, and might also be considered continuous with those of the Parnahyba and Tocantins-Araguaya basins.