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Caracas Travel Guide

History of Caracas

Don Diego de Losada
Don Diego de Losada
Caracas has a singular importance because it was the place where many American independence precursors and heroes were born such as Simon Bolivar, Francisco de Miranda, and the writer Andrés Bello.

Caracas in its origins was inhabited by natives of the Toromaimas tribe. Francisco Fajardo, natural from the Margarita Island and the son of a Spanish Captain and a Guaqueri Queen, encouraged by histories about fertile lands with a plentiful climate in the northern-center of the Venezuela province decided to embark him in an expedition to find these lands. In 1855 Fajardo reached the coastline of Venezuela and continued his journey to these lands. After an intense battle with the aborigines he founded his plantation in the valley called San Francisco in 1860.

Years later there were discovered gold mines in the region. Juan Rodriguez Suarez founded a new town in the same place of Fajardo’s plantation and he renamed it as Villa de San Francisco but the town was destroyed 4 months later by the aborigines of this lands commanded by the cacique Guaicaipuro, this was the last rebellion of the natives.

On July 25, 1967 the Spanish Captain Don Diego de Losada founded the "Santiago de León de Caracas" city in the same place of Valle de San Francisco. The city was developed in the narrowest part of the valley, in the crossroad of two paths: The path that goes to the Guaira’s maritime harbor and the path that goes to the gold mine of Teques.

Some chroniclers say that the city in its origins began where now is located the Plaza Bolivar, the old main square of the colony, but there others that declare that the town began in the northern side of the actual city.

In 1577, the governor Juan de Pimentel nominated the town to become the administrative center of the Province of Venezuela; thus, Caracas became the third and final capital of Venezuela. In 1578, 60 families lived in the 25-block city. Caracas was never a popular city, it lacked the gold and riches of other cities in Peru and Mexico and was well known for pirate attacks, plagues, and other catastrophes. In 1595, the first pirate attack burned the city to the ground, and after a persistent reconstruction, it was destroyed by an earthquake in 1641.

Things got better in the eighteenth century: the Universidad Real y Pontificia de Caracas (now called the Universidad Central de Venezuela) was founded in 1725. In 1728, the trading company Real Compañía Guipuzcoana, made up of 700 captains and merchants from the Basque region of Spain, was established. The trading company dominated the trade between Spain and the colony, and it made significant economic contributions to Caracas, though many of its citizens complained of corruption. It was no surprise then when, in 1749, Juan Francisco de León began a riot against the company that would become known as the first open protest to lead into the independence movement.

Francisco de Miranda is largely credited for paving the way to the independence movement, and Simón Bolívar for actually achieving it. However, the independence struggle was not easy. In 1810, a group of Caraqueños formed a coup to take over the government, denouncing the Spanish government authority. The clash continued until July 5, 1811, when Venezuela finally declared its independence from Spain.

Although independence was won, different struggles continued. In 1812, an earthquake struck and killed 10,000 people destroying much of the city. The church took the opportunity to claim the disaster as a punishment from God for rebelling against the Spanish Crown. Simón Bolívar's victory at the Battle of Carabobo in 1821 established again the independence of Venezuela, though Spain did not recognize it as a country until 1845.

In the first part of the twentieth century, Caracas grew modestly and was not very well known. It was not until oil was discovered in the Maracaibo basin in 1914, and the oil boom of the 1970s hit, that the population of Caracas exploded—going from 350,000 in 1950 to five or six million today. Thanks to the oil money, Caracas became a modern, booming capital. Though remnants of the old colonial town are difficult to imagine (most colonial buildings were destroyed during modernization), its architecture is well known on the continent, and skyscrapers abound.


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