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History, Early Inhabitants and Colonial Period

Tazumal, Cara Sucia, Sonsonate, Lenca, Viceroyalty of New Spain

Native American peoples related to the Maya inhabited present-day El Salvador from an early date. Several notable archaeological sites contain dwellings and other evidence of daily life 1,400 years ago; these were found preserved beneath 6 m (20 ft) of volcanic ash. The sites include Tazumal, San Andres, Cihuatan, Quelepa, Cara Sucia, and Joya de Ceren. Maya groups, including the Pokomam, Lenca, and Chorti, remained in the area, but in the 11th century ad, Nahuatl-speaking people related to the Aztec, including the Pipil and Ulua, migrated along the Pacific coast from Mexico to El Salvador.

Spaniards first appeared in the area in 1522, when an expedition headed by Andres Nino entered the Bay of Fonseca. The Spanish conquest of Cuzcatlan, the Land of Precious Things, as the native peoples called it, began in 1524. It was led by Captain Pedro de Alvarado, a daring conquistador who had accompanied Hernan Cortes to Mexico and then directed the conquest of Guatemala in early 1524. Diseases brought from Europe preceded the arrival of the Spanish forces, decimating the native peoples and making the conquest easier for the Spaniards. Yet after a month of bloody combat, Alvarado, wounded, retreated into Guatemala. His brother Gonzalo and cousin Diego completed the conquest, and Diego established the city of San Salvador in 1528 near the present town of Suchitoto. The Spaniards moved San Salvador to its present site in 1540.

Under the Spanish colonial empire, El Salvador was part of the Kingdom of Guatemala, which governed most of Central America. The kingdom was a division of the huge administrative region known as the Viceroyalty of New Spain, based in Mexico City, but officials in the Guatemalan capital made most decisions for the kingdom. El Salvador was part of the province of Guatemala until the late 1700s, divided into administrative areas known as alcaldias mayores around the towns of San Salvador, San Miguel, San Vicente, Santa Ana, and Sonsonate.

The region produced little for export until the 18th century, when the Spanish government encouraged it to increase its production of indigo, needed by European textile manufacturers. Salvadoran indigo became the leading export of the Kingdom of Guatemala, and in 1786 Spain established San Salvador as a separate political unit within the kingdom. With this increased economic and political status, Salvadoran Creoles (colonists born in the Americas but of Spanish descent) resented the continued dominance of Guatemala’s merchants, colonial administrators, and church officials, and began to feel a sense of Salvadoran nationalism.

Article key phrases:

Tazumal, Cara Sucia, Sonsonate, Lenca, Viceroyalty of New Spain, Ceren, Ulua, Hernan Cortes, Chorti, Native American peoples, Spanish forces, Nahuatl, church officials, San Vicente, Joya, Spanish descent, Spanish government, San Salvador, administrative areas, political status, San Miguel, Aztec, Spaniards, native peoples, San Andres, colonists, Santa Ana, Pacific coast, Alvarado, expedition, Salvador, dwellings, Central America, Spain, arrival, century ad, Americas, Mexico City, century, officials, Mexico, division, Diseases, decisions, Europe, region, area, years


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