Penha’s neighborhood is part of the Leopoldina suburb, name by which the northern urban zone of Rio came to be known. The area flourished in the late nineteenth century along the railroad that connected Rio de Janeiro to Minas Gerais. Well before the train passed through the region, in the seventeenth century, a small chapel was erected on top of the cliff, which would then grow, lending its name to the place and becoming the icon of the Leopoldina suburbs: the Church Nossa Senhora da Penha.
In 1919, a time when the Festival of Penha rivaled the Carnival in Rio as the main stronghold of samba composers, the neighborhood was emancipated from Irajá. From then on, it went through changes with new investments: the installation of the Carioca Tannery, the creation of a clothing pole and the opening of Brasil Avenue. Progress brought along a mass of residents who took the immense rural dismembered areas in a disorganized way – today known as Vila Cruzeiro and Complexo do Alemão. In the 90s, the region suffered after the abandonment of the surrounding industries and the growth of violence. It is now trying to rebuild itself amid a pacification process.