Olinda (and Igarassu before it) had been settled in 1536 by Captain General Duarte Coelho, a Portuguese nobleman, proprietor and administrator of the captaincy of Pernambuco.
The reef is not as sometimes stated, a coral reef, but a consolidated ancient beach, now as firm and hard as stone.
In 1541, Coelho returned from the Kingdom of Portugal with the machinery for an engenho (sugar mill), and with it, his brother-in-law established the first mill named Nossa Senhora da Ajuda (Our Lady of Help), in the floodplain of the Beberibe River at Recife.
Recife stands out as a major tourist attraction of the Northeast, both for its beaches and for its historic sites, dating back to both the Portuguese and the Dutch colonization of the region.
The beach of Porto de Galinhas, 60 kilometers (37 mi) south of the city, has been repeatedly awarded the title of best beach in Brazil and has drawn many tourists.
The city was one of the host cities of the 2014 FIFA World Cup.