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Riobamba, sierra city (2001 population est. 124,807), the capital of Chimborazo province in the central sierra of Ecuador. Riobamba, the "Sultan of the Andes," was founded in 1534 by Spanish conquistador Sebastián de Belalcázar. Earlier an important Inca center, Riobamba under Spanish colonialism developed as a relatively prosperous textile manufacturing center. Obrajes produced woolen ponchos and blankets for export to Peru's silver-mining districts. However, a series of epidemics hit the sierra in 1692–1695, reducing the population by from a quarter to half. The loss of the labor force crippled Riobamba's textile industry. It never recovered, and demographic and economic stagnation continued until the present century.

Continuing exploitation of the natives by the Europeans during the colonial period and after gave the Riobamba region a certain notoriety for frequent Indian revolts. The most serious occurred in 1764, when Indians rose up in response to the imposition of higher taxes. In this revolt, as in all others, authorities settled the issue by killing an untold number of Indians. Earthquakes have also repeatedly brought disaster to Riobamba. That of 1645 was particularly severe. The earthquake of 1797 destroyed the city, forcing city fathers to relocate Riobamba on the plain of Tapi.

Riobamba played an important role in Ecuador's separation from Gran Colombia, serving as the site for the Constituent Congress of May 1830 that drew up the nation's declaration of independence and its first constitution.

On August 16, 2006, Riobamba's inhabitants were imperiled when a volcano 80 miles south of Quito known as Tungurahua erupted and rained down rocks and ash in the city.

See alsoBelalcázar, Sebastián de; Earthquakes; Textile Industry: The Colonial Era; Volcanoes.


For a summary of sierra history and culture, see Thomas Weil et al., Area Handbook for Ecuador (1973).

Additional Bibliography

Campaña, Victor. Fiesta y poder: La celebración de Rey de Reyes en Riobamba. Quito: AbyaYala, 1991.

Morales Mejía, Juan Carlos. Riobamba: Del luterano al terremoto. Riobamba, Ecuador: Diario de la Prensa, 1998.

Pazmiño, Rocio; Nidia Gómez; Rocío Rueda N.; and Rosemarie Teran. La antigua Riobamba: Historia oculta de una ciudad colonial. Riobamba, Ecuador: Municipio de Riobamba; Quito: Abya-Yala, 2000.

                                   Ronn F. Pineo