History of Veracruz

Ancient Mexican Ruins, Colonial Cities and More

This article is quoted from the History Channel at http://www.history.com/topics/veracruz

Early History

During the pre-Hispanic period, the region that now constitutes modern-day Veracruz was inhabited by four indigenous cultures. The Huastecos and Otomíes occupied the north, the Totonacas resided in the north-center, and the Olmecs, one of the oldest cultures in all the Americas, dominated the south between 1300 and 400 B.C. Several important Olmec sites are situated along rivers on the coastal plain in Veracruz. They include San Lorenzo (1300-900 B.C.) and Tres Zapotes (1000-400 B.C). At their peak, these three settlements were probably the most complex ceremonial sites found in Mesoamerica; however, by 400 B.C., the distinctive features of Olmec culture disappeared and the region was replaced by the emerging central Mexican and Mayan civilizations.

The indigenous Huastec people from the Pánuco River basin in east Mexico spoke a Mayan dialect but were physically separated from the rest of the Mayans; consequently, their culture did not develop along similar lines. The Huastecos also remained isolated from later civilizations of the central plateau, such as the Aztec. The present-day Huastec population, which maintains aspects of their traditional culture and language, now numbers about 80,000 in the areas around Veracruz and San Luis Potosí.

The Totonacas occupied an area known as Totonacapan. This area stretched throughout central Veracruz and encompassed the Zacatlán district of the present-day state of Puebla. Occupying some 50 towns with an overall population of a quarter million people, the Totonacs spoke four dialects. Their capital, Cempoala, had a population of about 25,000 and was located five miles inland from the present-day city of Veracruz.

During the 11th century, Aztecs invaded the area and, by the 1400s, had dominated Veracruz.

Middle History

The Spanish first arrived in Veracruz in 1518 under the command of Juan de Grijalva. The expedition also included Bernal Diaz del Castillo, who later became a champion of indigenous rights.

Because the first expedition detected the presence of gold in the region, a second expedition under the command of Hernán Cortés was launched in 1519. It was during this expedition that Cortés disembarked and founded the place he and his men called Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz or the Rich Village of the True Cross. In the mid 1500s, massive amounts of gold and silver were harvested throughout the state.

As was the case in most parts of Mexico, new European diseases and enslavement decimated the indigenous population in the first years after the Spanish arrived. As the population decreased, African slaves were brought over to work on the sugarcane plantations. The port city of Veracruz quickly became Mexico's most important port of entry. Veracruz had the largest enslaved population in Mexico during this time.

In 1570, an African slave named Gaspar Yanga led an uprising and established San Lorenzo de los Negros. In colonial Mexico, this was one of the only settlements of African blacks to gain its independence and freedom through revolt. After attempting to recapture the slaves and end the revolt in 1606 and 1609, Spanish authorities decided to negotiate with the community. In exchange for the settlement's freedom, Yanga agreed to no longer raid Spanish communities. In 1630, the settlement established the town of Yanga.

Recent History

Destined to become one of Mexico's most feared and beloved military and political leaders, Antonio López de Santa Anna was born in Jalapa, Veracruz, on February 21, 1794. Not long after, at the beginning of the Mexican War of Independence in 1810, Guadalupe Victoria became the most important independence leader in Veracruz. Serving under the command of José Maria Morelos, he took part in the attack on Oaxaca in 1812, and in 1814 he assumed leadership of the rebel movement in Veracruz.

After seizing several royalist convoys, Victoria was defeated at Palmillas in 1817 and forced into hiding. When he emerged, Victoria was imprisoned but managed to escape. He took command of forces in Veracruz that were rebelling against Agustin de Iturbide's imperial rule. After Iturbide's fall, Victoria, Nicolás Bravo and Pedro Celestino Negrete formed a triumvirate that held executive power until October 1824 when Victoria took office as Mexico's first president.

In 1824, Veracruz became a federal state and created a new constitution the following year. As was the case with the rest of Mexico, the state experienced political and social instability during much of the 19th century. Conflicts between centralists and federalists and between liberals and conservatives slowed economic development and led to continual revolts. When his liberal government was attacked in Mexico City in 1857, Mexican president Benito Juárez governed from Veracruz.

In 1863, Austrian monarch Maximilian, appointed Emperor of Mexico by Napoleon III, arrived in Veracruz to assume power. French forces conquered and ruled parts of Mexico between 1864 and 1866. They eventually withdrew due to the intervention of the United States, who demanded that Maximilian relinquish the throne and that Napoleon III withdraw his French forces.

During the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920), Veracruz became a battleground for different factions, but at the end of the revolution, peace and stability returned to the region. Veracruz has since grown to be one of the most populated and economically active Mexican states.

Veracruz Today

Veracruz continues to be a very important part of Mexico's economy. The state is rich in natural resources and represents approximately 35 percent of Mexico's water supply. In addition, Veracruz has four deep-water ports and two international airports. An important source of iron and copper, Veracruz also produces such non-metallic minerals as sulfur, silica, feldspar, calcium, kaolin and marble.

Farms in the region around Jalapa grow most of the state's coffee beans. The state has a robust agricultural economy, and long-standing industrial centers at Córdoba, Orizaba and Rio Blanco produce abundant textile materials.

With a pleasant climate, good cuisine and archaeological sites, the port of Veracruz is a favorite seaside resort for Mexican and foreign tourists. The city, advantageously situated along the Gulf of Mexico, has become a preferred port for exports to the United States, Latin America and Europe. In fact, 75 percent of all port activity in Mexico takes place in Veracruz. The chief exports of the state are coffee, fresh fruits, fertilizers, sugar, fish and crustaceans.

Many of the Otomí people--one of the region's first inhabitants--still live in Veracruz. The fifth-largest indigenous ethnic group in Mexico, the Otomí are scattered throughout Central Mexico, from Michoacán to Veracruz.

Facts & Figures

  • Capital: Xalapa
  • Major Cities (population): Veracruz (512,310), Xalapa-Enriquez (413,136), Coatzacoalcos (280,363), Córdoba (186,623), Papantla de Olarte (152,863)
  • Size/Area: 27,683 square miles
  • Population: 7,110,214 (2005 Census)
  • Year of statehood: 1824