San Salvador

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San Salvador

San Salvador, name given in the colonial period to both the approximate territory of present-day El Salvador and the city that historically presided over it. The territory was an alcaldía mayor until 1785, when it became an intendencia. During the Central American Federation (1824–1839) it was one of the five constituent states. When the state left the federation and was renamed El Salvador, the name San Salvador was reserved for one of its subdivisions. Today it is one of fourteen departments of the country (2005 est. pop. 2.2 million). It is located in the central region with an area of 354 square miles. Its most prominent geographical features are the San Salvador volcano and Lake Ilopango.

The city (2001 est. pop. 485,847), now capital of El Salvador, was founded in 1525, probably by Diego de Alvarado. Twenty years later it moved to its present location, a valley 2,200 feet above sea level, 19.3 miles north of the Pacific coast. The valley is called "Valley of the Hammocks" because of the frequency of earthquakes. San Salvador is linked with the other major cities of the country and the capitals of Central America by the Pan-American Highway, and has easy access to an international airport located on the coast.

Historically the city has been the uncontested administrative, economic, cultural, and educational center of the country. In 1811, San Salvador's city notables, a group of creole indigo producers, led the first stage of Central American independence and thereafter played a prominent role in the movement. Francisco Morazán made it capital of the Central American Federation from 1834 until 1839. After an earthquake in 1854 the capital was moved east to Cojutepeque until 1859, when it returned to San Salvador. The most recent earthquake was in 1986, when important buildings, including the largest children's hospital and the American embassy, were seriously damaged and about a thousand people died. The city witnessed some of the most dramatic moments of the 1979–1992 civil war, including the murders of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero in 1980 and of six Jesuit priests nine years later, and the emotional celebration of the end of the civil war in January 1992.

Thanks to its central location, good communications, and access to government and financial services, San Salvador and its metropolitan area have become the heart of the industrial sector. According to the 1979 industrial census, almost half of the manufactures of the country were produced in the area. Migration from the countryside increased in the 1960s and accelerated after the outbreak of the civil war, when thousands of peasants abandoned their land and sought refuge in the capital. More than one-fifth of the total population of the country lives within San Salvador's metropolitan area (2001 est. pop. 1.4 million) and San Salvador is the second-largest city in Central America. In the early twenty-first century gangs and gang-related crime plague parts of the city. The rise in gang violence is often portrayed as a result of the deportation of thousands of Salvadorans from the United States in the mid-1990s, the same Salvadorans and their descendants who had to flee from the civil war violence of the 1980s.

See alsoEl Salvador .


For the early history of the city, see Rodolfo Barón Castro, La población de El Salvador (1942) and Reseña histórica de la villa de San Salvador (1950). For recent population and economic data, see República De El Salvador, Indicadores económicos y sociales, 1987–1989 (1989).

Lauria-Santiago, Aldo, and Leigh Binford. Landscapes of Struggle: Politics, Society, and Community in El Salvador. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2004.

Rodríguez Herrera, América. San Salvador: Historia urbana, 1900–1940. San Salvador: Dirección de Publicaciones e Impresos, CONACULTURA, 2002.

                                 HÉctor Lindo-Fuentes

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San Salvador (sän sälväŧħōr´), city (1993 pop. 402,448), central El Salvador, capital and largest city of the country. It is the center of El Salvador's trade and communications. Beer, tobacco products, clothing, textiles, and soap are produced there. Built on the volcanic slope that parallels the Pacific coast (nearby is San Salvador volcano, 6,211 ft/1,893 m), the city has suffered from recurrent and severe earthquakes and has been frequently rebuilt. The most disastrous quake (1854) led to the founding of Nueva San Salvador; the last earthquake occurred in 1986, resulting in significant damage to the city. San Salvador is high enough to escape the excessive heat of the tropics but has a year-round summer climate. It has several fine parks, broad avenues, and modern houses (particularly in outlying sections). Among the city's most visited sites is a memorial (2003) to those who died or disappeared during the country's 12-year civil war. San Salvador was founded early in the 16th cent. and for a time (1831–38) was the capital of the Central American Federation. San Salvador has experienced rapid population growth that has strained its economy.

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San Salvador Capital and largest city of El Salvador, in central El Salvador. Founded in 1524 – near the volcano of San Salvador, which rises to 1885m (6184ft) and last erupted in 1917 – the city has been frequently damaged by earthquakes. The main industry is the processing of coffee grown on the rich volcanic soils of the area. Other manufactures include beer, textiles, and tobacco. Pop. (2002 est.) 496,000.

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San Salvador, island of the Bahamas, West Indies. Many historians believe that it was the first land sighted by Columbus in the New World in 1492. The indigenous population called it Guanahani, and it has also been named Watling or Watlings Island. It was formerly confused with what is now known as Cat Island.