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A Brief History of La Paz - Indian Chief Travel
BOLIVIA  |  La Paz, Bolivia Travel Guide
Monday, August 26, 2019
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A Brief History of La Paz

A Brief History

La Paz was originally a stop-off place for silver caravans going from Potosi to the coast. Mostly, the caravans stopped to dump passengers or llama skinners who got sick. Life in this outpost must have been pretty boring until some young officer decided to try his hand at gold panning and came up with a bundle. The city started to grow.

Peace was never a lasting thing in Bolivia, mostly because the Indians were treated so badly. The Spanish greed caused no end of hardship for locals and struggles for power continued among the Spanish. Pedro de la Gasca, the ruler of the area, beat the ruthless Gonzalo Pizarro at the battle of Saxahuana on April 9, 1548. In celebration, Gasco ordered Alonzo de Mendoza, who presided over the area now called Bolivia, to build a new city to honor this event.

On October 20, 1548, Mendoza declared the city of Nuestra Señora de la Paz to be that place. The specific site he chose was Laja, located on the Altiplano above the valley where land was barren and winds were fierce. It didn’t take long – just three days – for the inhabitants of the city to move down into the valley of the Choqueyapu River where it was warmer, where there was fresh water and where the soil was rich enough to grow food. The city, its name shortened to La Paz, started to grow. Just over 100 years later there were over 500 Spaniards living in La Paz, on the river’s west side, and twice as many indigenous people living on the opposite side of the river.

Within the first year, Juan Gutierrez Paniagua was hired as the city planner. His greatest achievement was the design of Plaza Murillo (then called La Plaza de los Españoles). The government buildings and the cathedral were placed on the square.

Turbulent Times

From the time of its inception to present day, there have been many uprisings in La Paz. The first involved the native population, who became tired of the oppression imposed on them by the Spaniards. Their long history of rebellion began. Tupac Katari, an Aymara, in 1780 led an army into La Paz. They held the city under siege for 109 days, during which time they burned and destroyed many of the buildings. Men on both sides died in great numbers. The Spaniards sent an army strong enough to force the Aymara to retreat. However, within a short time, the Aymara returned. They dammed the river with the idea that it would be released with enough water to flow down to the valley in a huge torrent and kill everyone below. The dam broke on its own and did cause some damage, but not enough to cripple the town. Peace again came to the city, but trouble lay below the surface. Discontent throughout the country came as the people wanted independence from Spain and La Paz again suffered through the struggle. By the time Bolivia became an independent country, La Paz had close to 50,000 people.

But even after independence, quiet times didn’t stay. There were battles between Sucre and La Paz as both wanted to be the center of government. A compromise was reached with Sucre remaining the capitol and the judicial center, while La Paz became the seat of government.

The next major event was the Revolution of 1952, when the government gave in to pressure from the MNR socialist party, representing campesinos and miners, to redistribute land and control the mining industry. When this happened, many displaced tenant farmers moved to La Paz.

The latest event, dubbed the Tax War, occurred in February of 2003. At that time 33 people were killed in the streets of La Paz when the military started firing on striking police who had stormed the legislature. Hundreds were injured, stores were looted and government buildings were burned. The police were protesting a proposed income tax that to them seemed unfair.

Last updated November 20, 2007
Posted in   Bolivia  |  La Paz
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