32-201: Geography of Latin America

Spanish Viceroyalties

The first city to be founded by Spaniards in the New World was Santo Domingo (1496), present-day capital of the Dominican Republic. It was not too long before the Spaniards became aware of the advanced Amerindian civilizations and riches that were to be found elsewhere, and the two most important Spanish administrative centers became Mexico City (1521) and Lima (1542).

Mexico City was constructed atop the ruins of Tenochtitlán, the Aztec's capital city, in the densely-populated region that is referred to by geographers as Mesoamerica.

Lima was built on South America's Pacific Coast at the foot of the easiest route for travel to Cuzco, a capital of the Inca Empire and center of settlement in the Andes Mountains.

Mexico City and Lima each had a Viceroy (or virrey, literally vice king) and were the capitals of administrative units called a Viceroyalty. Mexico City was the capital of the Viceroyalty of New Spain, and Lima was the capital of the Viceroyalty of Perú.

Eventually the Spanish created two additional viceroyalties in South America. The Viceroyalty of Nueva Granada (1717) had Bogotá as its capital, and the Viceroyalty of La Plata (1776) had Buenos Aires as capital.

Some of the administrative boundaries of colonial Spanish America have helped determine the boundaries of present-day countries.


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Last Revised: January 28, 1997