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Today, the city of Santa Cruz is the biggest and wealthiest city in Bolivia. But it wasn't always that way. For centuries the city was tiny, isolated and relatively unprofitable.

The Founding of Santa Cruz de la Sierra

Santa Cruz was originally founded on February 26, 1561 by Spaniard ?'uflo de Chavez, who called the city Santa Cruz de la Sierra or, “Holy Cross of the Hills,” in honor of his native town of Extremadura in Southern Spain. Interestingly, Santa Cruz was founded approximately 200 kilometers (125 mi) from where it currently sits; the city had to be moved in order to protect itself from the threats of violent, local indigenous groups. Along with the cities of Buenos Aires, Argentina and Asunción, Paraguay, Santa Cruz helped compose the Audiencia de la Plata, with jurisdiction over Northern Peru, Paraguay, the Río de la Plata, and parts of Uruguay and Northern Argentina.

Slow Beginnings...

For most of the Spanish who came to settle in Bolivia, Santa Cruz and the Lowlands weren't as profitable as the highlands with their rich mineral wealth (evidenced by the great mines of Potosí), though there were those who believed rumors of a lost city of gold, like El Dorado or Paititi, somewhere within the rainforest (No luck so far...). In contrast, for the Spanish crown, the Southeastern region was quite valuable in that it contained thousands of potential Christian converts: natives such as the Guaranies, Moxeños, Chiquitanos, Guarayos, and Chiriguanos. Jesuit missions consequently flourished throughout the area. See Jesuit Missions for more information.

Rising Importance...

It wasn't until after Bolivia gained independence that Santa Cruz and the Lowlands began to play a more significant role in history of the country. In the early 20th century, neighboring countries became interested in these lands, which led to both the Acre War (with Brazil) and the Chaco War (with Paraguay). As a result, in order to maintain their hold on the region, the central government was forced to provide more resources and support to the area.

Connection to the Outside World

In 1954 a road was built connecting Santa Cruz to Cochabamba, finally connecting the city with the rest of the country. A railway to Brazil built soon thereafter helped to open trade routes to the East and the exportation of tropical agriculture quickly became a significant economic booster. The final addition of the airport helped to make Santa Cruz an important industrial trade center. The need for tin and rubber after the American and European industrial revolutions, also contributed significantly to the wealth of the area.

Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Santa Cruz and The Eastern Lowlands: History,

By Emma Mueller
“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” – Henry...
01 Mar 2010

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