Tegucigalpa, capital of Honduras. Although the site was probably occupied for millennia before the Spanish conquest, the municipality itself was founded upon the discovery of silver mines by Spanish explorers in the 1570s (according to local lore, "Tegucigalpa" means "hill of silver"). When reports of the rich lodes in and around Tegucigalpa reached the Spanish king, he designated the region an alcaldía mayor, raisingit to municipal status and granting it limited autonomy from Comayagua. The Real de Minas de San Miguel de Tegucigalpa was probably formally established on 29 September 1578. By this act, Tegucigalpa became independent of the provincial capital and episcopal see at Comayagua, thus planting a seed of municipal rivalry between the two.
When the most accessible veins of silver played out a few years later, and the lack of adequate labor and transportation facilities, insufficient capital, inappropriate technology, and meager supplies of mercury severely reduced mining activity, the town shrank in size but did not disappear altogether. Cattle ranching, commerce, and political and ecclesiastical administration combined with residual silver mining to sustain Tegucigalpa as the largest and most prosperous town in colonial Honduras. Indeed, there was still sufficient mining activity to prompt Charles III to redesignate Tegucigalpa an official mining district (real de minas) in 1762. Although the alcaldía mayor was briefly suppressed in the waning days of the Spanish era, it was revived in 1812.
When Central America gained its independence from Spain, Tegucigalpa and Comayagua agreed, on 30 August 1824, at the Constituent Assembly meeting at Cedros that the two towns would take turns serving as the capital of the Province of Honduras. This arrangement was continued informally after the breakup of the United Provinces of Central America after 1838. In 1880, however, President Marco Aurelio Soto moved the seat of government permanently to Tegucigalpa, where it has remained ever since. In 1907, Bishop José María Martínez y Cabañas successfully negotiated the translation of the ecclesiastical see from Comayagua to Tegucigalpa; since then the seat has been raised to archbishopric. For historical and geographical reasons, the country was never able to link its new capital, Tegucigalpa, to a railroad, and, even today, the Pan-American Highway passes some fifty miles to the south of the capital on its way down the isthmus from San Salvador to Managua. Despite both these bottlenecks, Tegucigalpa, with a population of more than 890,000, has experienced a massive influx of campesinos from the hinterland and is undergoing all the typical growing pains of rapid urbanization. Since the 1990s maquiladoras have been established in the Amarateca valley.
On October 30, 1998, Hurricane Mitch destroyed part of the city, and then continued to hover over the region for five days. Deforestation and ground saturation led to flooding and landslides that decimated neighborhoods, bridges, and historic buildings.
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Martínez B., Juan Ramón. Honduras, las fuerzas del desacuerdo: Un ensayo histórico sobre las relaciones entre la Iglesia y el Estado (1525–1972). Tegucigalpa: Editorial Universitaria, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras, 1998.
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Kenneth V. Finney