Asunción, capital city of Paraguay, founded 15 August 1537 (the Feast of the Assumption) by Juan de Salazar y Espinoza on the east bank of the Paraguay River, 956 miles upstream from the port of Buenos Aires, Asunción became the capital of Paraguay on 14 May 1811. Serving as a base for colonial expeditions and Jesuit missionaries, Asunción was an important city in the early history of the Spanish Empire. From Asunción, expeditions founded cities in Argentina, Bolivia, and Brazil. For this reason it is known as the "mother of cities." As the center of the nation's political, economic, religious, and cultural life, Asunción dominates Paraguay's commerce, industry, and communications. It has a humid, subtropical climate with a mean temperature of 84F during the summer (October through March) and an average rainfall of 50 inches, occurring primarily in December and January. By the seventeenth century, Asunción was overshadowed by Buenos Aires, with its more favorable commercial location. Demographic data suggest that Asunción's population surpassed 3,500 by 1565; 7,000 by 1800; 11,000 by 1846; 42,000 by 1900; 203,000 by 1950; and 389,000 by 1972. In 2002 the population reached 508,795 in the city, and more than 1.6 million in the greater metropolitan area Gran Asunción.
The town was laid out in a gridiron pattern with a central plaza containing the religious, governmental, and commercial institutions. Within Asunción the competition for commercial dominance between port and plaza was resolved in favor of the plaza. During its first three centuries, Asunción was a nearly economically self-sufficient frontier river town with a Spanish- and Guarani-speaking Mestizo population of limited class divisions. It was subject to indigenous attack as late as the 1740s. The city prided itself on the secondary and religious training available at the Real Colegio y Seminario de San Carlos, which opened in 1783. Construction of public buildings and roads during the Carlos Antonio López administration (1844–1862) reflected increasing affluence. During the War of the Triple Alliance (1864–1870), however, Brazil captured, pillaged, and destroyed much of the city. The export of Asunción's wealth to Buenos Aires destroyed its development and slowed the nation's postwar commercial growth.
Renovated nineteenth-century buildings such as the 1843 cathedral; the government palace, built on the site of the former cabildo (city hall) and used by every president since Francisco Solano López (1862–1870); and the railroad station and theater, begun during the Carlos Antonio López administration, are landmarks of contemporary Asunción. The Pantheon of Heroes, a smaller version of the Invalides in Paris, was completed in 1937.
Initially connected to Buenos Aires by river and road and in the twentieth century by rail, and linked by road to Brazil and Bolivia, the city prospered. Beginning in the 1960s, Asunción expanded its telephone, water, sewage, and electrical power services. After World War I, and in particular since the 1960s, better-paying jobs, modern conveniences, and kin in Asunción have attracted increasing numbers of rural migrants and some foreign immigrants. By 2001 the city accounted for more than 25 percent of the nation's total population. Argentina's economic crisis in 2001 hurt Paraguay, and since then street vending and informal activities are a way of survival for many of Asunción's residents. As in the nineteenth century, the region surrounding Asunción produces foods such as corn and rice as well as sugarcane and fruit for the city. Asunción exports tobacco, cotton, hides, meat, and timber to international markets.
Asunción controls the nation. Power resides primarily in the national executive. The judiciary, the two-chamber Congress, and all the public institutions have their headquarters in the city. Municipal government is weak, however, since the president traditionally appoints the mayor. The seat of the archbishop for this primarily Catholic country is Asunción. The city is home to the Universidad Nacional de Asunción (founded 1889) and the Universidad Católica "Nuestra Señora de la Asunción" (founded 1960) as well as the National Theater and a variety of museums.
The seasonal flooding of the Paraguay River from May to July that displaces inhabitants in informal marshland settlements continues to strain the city. Contingent on funding, the municipal and federal governments in cooperation with international agencies are planning an "embankment process" to elevate the marshlands.
Since a military coup overthrew the thirty-five-year reign of General Alfredo Stroessner in 1989, Paraguay has moved toward establishing a democratic system of government. Notwithstanding recent political conflicts and corruption, Paraguay has held relatively clean presidential elections since 1993. In August 2003 President Nicanor Duarte Frutos took office.
See alsoParaguay River .
Departmento De Cultura y Arte, Municipal De Asunción, Historia edificia de la ciudad de Asunción (1967), provides a series of short sketches by various authors on different aspects of the city, with over half the material after 1870. Mabel Causarano, Asunción: Análisis histórico-ambiental de su imagen urbana: Álbum gráfico, 450 años (1987), is a photo-album history of the city. Harris Gaylord Warren, Paraguay and the Triple Alliance: The Postwar Decade, 1869–1878 (1978), esp. pp. 16-18 and 33-34, also provides descriptive material on the nineteenth century, while Fulgencio R. Moreno, La Ciudad de la Asunción (1926, repr. 1968), concentrates primarily on colonial development, including political, demographic, economic, and social information. George F. Masterman, Seven Eventful Years in Paraguay (1869), esp. pp. 32-34, provides an excellent description of Asunción in the nineteenth century and the wartime conditions of Paraguay, but his analysis of Francisco Solano López must be approached with caution.
Imas Ruiz, Víctor Julio. Ante la pobreza, la organización: La emergencia del movimiento barrial en el marco de la transición política en el Paraguay. Asunción: BASE-ECTA, 1995.
Krüger, Hildegard. El Cabildo de Asunción: Estructura y función del cabildo colonial. Asunción: Instituto Cultural Paraguayo-Alemán, 1996.
Lafuente Machain, Ricardo de. El Fundador: Juan de Salazar de Espinosa. Asunción: Academia Paraguaya de la Historia: FONDEC, 2004.
Laterza Rivarola, Gustavo. Historia del municipio de Asunción: Desde sus comienzos hasta nuestros días. Asunción: GG Servicios Gráficos, 1995.
Prieto, Juan Manuel. La ciudad en que vivimos. Asunción: Arandurã Editorial, 2001.
Quevedo, Roberto, Margarita Durán Estragó, and Alberto Duarte. Actas capitulares y documentos del Cabildo de Asunción del Paraguay, Siglo XVI. Asunción: Municipalidad de la Ciudad de Asunción, 2001.
Vera Blinn Reber