views updated Jun 27 2018


Getting There
Getting Around
Public Safety
Health Care
Parks and Recreation
Performing Arts
Libraries and Museums
Holidays and Festivals
Famous Citizens
For Further Study

Caracas, Venezuela, South America

Founded: July 25, 1567
Location: North-central Venezuela, South America
Flag: Coat of arms on a deep red field.
Time Zone: 8 am = noon Greenwich Mean Time (GMT)
Ethnic Composition: 80% mestizos (of mixed European, Indian and African ancestry), 20% white, 8% black, and 2% Indian
Latitude and Longitude: 10° 30N, 66° 56W
Coastline: On the coast, approximately 25 km from the port of La Guaira
Climate: Subtropical
Annual Mean Temperature: From 10° to 25° C (50° to 70° F)
Government: Federal Republic. Caracas is ruled as a federal district; it is the center of all government in Venezuela and hosts the executive, judicial and legislative branches of government.
Weights and Measures: Metric system
Monetary Units: The bolivar, a paper currency of 100 centimos
Telephone Area Codes: 58 (Venezuela country code); 02 (Caracas city code)
Postal Codes: None

1. Introduction

Located in the central north region of Venezuela, Caracas is a sophisticated, cosmopolitan city with a fast-growing population. The words of Simón Bolívar, liberator of the country, after the 1812 earthquake, appropriately describe the plight of this Venezuelan capital: "If nature opposes us, we will fight against it and force it to obey." When Diego de Losada founded the city, he believed he had found the ideal locationa city in a valley with agricultural potential, warm days, cool nights, and proximity to a port. He could not have imagined the incredible growth the city has experienced in the last few decades. Modern-day Caracas is indeed a city in a valley, but one that is surrounded by shantytowns covering the hillsides in every direction. It is a city continually fighting pollution, traffic, and crime spurred by urbanization and mismanagement. Despite its problems, Caracas's traditional charm, coupled with its reputation as one of Latin America's most modern capitals, has for years drawn visitors from all over the world to its wonderful restaurants, museums, and nightlife.

2. Getting There

Most people entering Venezuela do so via Caracas.


Few foreigners arrive in Caracas by bus, but buses run daily from most Venezuelan cities and cover the entire country. The inexpensive buses arrive at the noisy, dirty and dangerous terminal of Nuevo Circo, located in the Caracas city center.


The Simón Bolívar International Airport of Maiquetía is located near the port of La Guiara on the Caribbean coast, approximately 25 kilometers (16 miles) from the Caracas city center. A highway connects the airport with the city. The airport has two terminals: one for national flights (daily to Maracaibo, Mérida, and other major Venezuelan cities), and another for international flights. There are daily flights from Miami (approximately a two-and-a-half-hour flight) and New York (approximately a six-and-a-half-hour flight) and many major European cities. The most common U.S. airline with the most routes to Caracas is American Airlines, and the Venezuelan national airlines of Avensa and Aeropostal also offer direct service from Miami. The Maiquetía airport also offers service to most Latin American capitals. There is a frequent bus service from the airport to the city center; travelers may also take taxis or arrange for hotel pick-ups.


The port of La Guiara is one of the busiest ports in the country, but passenger service is not available. However, several Caribbean cruise lines do make common one-day stops in the Caracas area.

3. Getting Around

Bus and Commuter Rail Service

The French-built Caracas metro, completed in 1983, is clean, efficient, and safe. It is by far the best way to get around the city and is organized into two lines. Line 1 travels east-west, and Line 2 travels from the city center southwest toward the zoo and the suburb of Caricuao. A Metrobus is also available for the suburbs not covered by the metro lines. The metro is open from 5:30 am to 11:00 pm. and fare is typically a maximum of 50 cents (in US currency).

Caracas Population Profile

Population: 3,153,000
Area: 1,930 sq km (740 sq mi)
Ethnic composition: 80% mestizos (of mixed European, Indian and African ancestry); 20% white, 8% black, and 2% Indian
World population rank 1: 92
Percentage of national population 2: 13.1%
Average yearly growth rate: 1.0%
Nicknames: The City of Eternal Spring

  1. The Caracas metropolitan area's rank among the world's urban areas.
  2. The percent of Venezuela's total population living in the Caracas metropolitan area.

For routes not covered by the metro, the Caracas bus network is extensive in the city and surrounding areas. Most buses in the city are smaller buses, known as carritos. Inexpensive though they may be, the buses are often a difficult way to travel as they are overcrowded and frequently get caught in daily traffic jams, making them a slow means of transport.


The city offers a variety of good museums, excellent restaurants, and a lively night life. Sightseers may begin their tour of the city at Plaza Bolivar, the heart of the city center. The Catedral, Palacio de Gobierno and Palacio Municipal are located on the sides of the plaza. In the city center is the Capitolio Nacional and the Casa Natal de Bolívar, where the famous liberator Simón Bolívar was born.

4. People

Caracas is a city of migrants and immigrants from all over the world; its people are mestizos, coupled with immigrants from Italy, Portugal, and many Latin American countries. The breakdown of the Venezuelan population is approximately 80 percent mestizos (of mixed European, Indian and African ancestry), 20 percent white, eight percent black, and two percent Indian. Caraqueños (the people of Caracas) reflect the same breakdown and are proud of their modern, cosmopolitan city. They too reflect the sophistication and modernity for which their city is known. Since Caracas is the business and political capital of the country, people generally dress up more than in the smaller cities. The people of Caracas also present contrasting imageswhile on one hand the city is full of many (often wealthy) professionals, it is a also a city surrounded by slums and a poverty-stricken, struggling lower class. Many rural people emigrate here for work, and the class differences of rich and poor are clear to most visitors upon looking up the hillsides at the slums that occupy them.

5. Neighborhoods

Caracas covers 20 kilometers (12 miles) along the valley in an east-west direction. The city center is made up of skyscrapers from the neighborhoods of El Silencio to Chacao, areas crammed with banks, offices, shops, restaurants, and public buildings. The historic quarter is west of the city center, and to the east the district Los Caobos is known for its museums. The Sabana Grande neighborhood is a pedestrian mall, filled with shops and restaurants. To the east of the city center are the commercial districts of Chacao and Chacaíto. South of these areas lie El Rosal and Las Mercedes with many well-known restaurants. The wealthy residential neighborhoods are the Caracas Country Club and Altamira, located to the north. The Parque Nacional El Ávila to the north is uninhabited.

Because it did not have the riches or sophisticated native populations of other Latin American countries, Caraqueños did not have strong ties to the old colonial buildings and way of life. They actually embraced modernity, much more so than their counterparts across the continent. Therefore, colonial Caracas exists only in a small area of town around the deteriorating La Pastora neighborhood and Plaza Bolivar, downtown in the city center.

6. History

Discovered by Francisco Fajardo from the nearby Margarita Island in 1560, the valley that is now Caracas was originally inhabited by the fierce Toromaima Indian tribe. Fajardo founded the first settlement, named San Francisco, and began his subsequent attempts to drive out the indigenous population. The native peoples prevailed; however, in 1561 the founder of the Venezuelan city of Mérida, Juan Rodríguez Suárez, revived the city, after the indigenous tribes had destroyed it, and named it Villa de San Francisco.

City Fact Comparison
Population of urban area13,153,00010,772,0002,688,00012,033,000
Date the city was founded25 July 1567AD 969753 BC723 BC
Daily costs to visit the city2
Hotel (single occupancy)$164$193$172$129
Meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner)$71$56$59$62
Incidentals (laundry, dry cleaning, etc.)$18$14$15$16
Total daily costs (hotel, meals, incidentals)$253$173$246$207
Major Newspapers3
Number of newspapers serving the city16132011
Largest newspaperMeridianoAkhbar El Yom/Al AkhbarLa RepubblicaRenmin Ribao
Circulation of largest newspaper300,0001,159,450754,9303,000,000
Date largest newspaper was established1969194419761948
1United Nations population estimates for the year 2000.
2The maximum amount the U.S. Government reimburses its employees for business travel. The lodging portion of the allowance is based on the cost for a single room at a moderately-priced hotel. The meal portion is based on the costs of an average breakfast, lunch, and dinner including taxes, service charges, and customary tips. Incidental travel expenses include such things as laundry and dry cleaning.
3David Maddux, ed. Editor&Publisher International Year Book. New York: The Editor&Publisher Company, 1999.

In 1567, the governor of the province of Venezuela ordered a complete conquest of the valley, and Captain Diego de Losada finally defeated the tribe and re-established the settlement on July 25 of the same year under the name Santiago de León de Caracas. In 1577, the governor Juan de Pimentel nominated the town to become the administrative center of the Province of Venezuela; thus, Caracas became the third and final capital of Venezuela. In 1578, 60 families lived in the 25-block city. Caracas was never a popular cityit lacked the gold and riches of other cities in Peru and Mexico and was well known for pirate attacks, plagues, and other catastrophes. In 1595, the first pirate attack burned the city to the ground, and after persistent reconstruction, it was destroyed by an earthquake in 1641 that claimed the lives of approximately 500 citizens.

Things improved in the eighteenth century: the Universidad Real y Pontificia de Caracas (now called the Universidad Central de Venezuela) was founded in 1725. In 1728, the trading company Real Compañía Guipuzcoana, made up of 700 captains and merchants from the Basque region of Spain, was established. The trading company dominated trade between Spain and the colony and made significant economic contributions to Caracas, though many of its citizens complained of corruption. It was no surprise then when, in 1749, Juan Francisco de León began a riot against the company that would become known as the first open protest to lead into the independence movement. Francisco de Miranda (b. 1750) is largely credited for paving the way to the independence movement, and Simón Bolívar (17831830) for actually achieving it. However, the independence struggle was not easy. In 1810, a group of Caraqueños formed a coup to take over the government, denouncing the Spanish governor's authority. The clash continued until July 5, 1811, when Venezuela finally declared its independence from Spain.

Although independence was won, struggles of a different sort continued. In 1812, an earthquake struck and killed 10,000 peopledestroying much of the city. The church took the opportunity to claim the disaster as a punishment from God for rebelling against the Spanish Crown. Simón Bolívar's victory at the Battle of Carabobo in 1821 again established the independence of Venezuela, though Spain did not recognize it as a country until 1845.

In the first part of the twenieth century, Caracas grew modestly and was not known for much. It was not until oil was discovered in the Maracaibo basin in 1914, and the oil boom of the 1970s hit, that the population of Caracas explodedgoing from 350,000 in 1950 to five or six million today. Thanks to the oil money, Caracas became a modern, booming capital. Though remnants of the old colonial town are difficult to imagine (most colonial buildings were destroyed during modernization), its architecture is well known on the continent, and skyscrapers abound.

7. Government

Venezuela has one of the longest-running democracies in Latin America. It is a federal republic with a National Congress. It recently passed a new Constitution that dissolved the traditional two-house Congress into one and made provisions to allow two consecutive terms for the president. Venezuela's government has survived numerous coup attempts, including the 1992 golpe de estado led by now-President Hugo Chávez. Chávez is the first president of late who is not of one of the traditional Venezuelan parties: Acción Democrática and the Social Christian COPEI. During the coup attempt in 1992, more than 20 lives were lost in Caracas. The federal district of Caracas is the center of all government and houses the executive, judicial, and legislative branches of government. It is ruled as a federal district.

8. Public Safety

Caracas is an increasingly dangerous city, largely because of the incredible growth of its poor neighborhoods and the many citizens who live below the poverty level. The unstable economy and political situation are blamed for the growing disparity between rich and poor. Though most violent crimes occur in the poor neighborhoods, they have also spread to the wealthier areas. The historic quarter is dangerous after dark, and visitors and citizens alike are advised not to carry expensive jewelry, watches, or cameras. Armed robberies do occur. People who drive cars are continually advised to lock their car doors as car-jackings are fairly common occurrences.

9. Economy

Venezuela's economy is almost exclusively based on oil. Discovered in 1914, oil turned Venezuela into one of Latin America's richest countries, and it still accounts for more than 20 percent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP). The big oil boom came during the 1970s, transforming the country virtually overnight. Though the main oil deposits are located in the Maracaibo basin, Caracas has benefited tremendously from the revenue generated from oil; its modern architecture and its status as the center of political, scientific, and cultural Venezuela is due largely to oil revenue. Caracas is the main business center in the country, as well as the center of all business sectorsagriculture, oil, electricityeven though most of the resources come from different parts of the country. The recent transfer of power in the country's largest oil company has added to the economic uncertainty of the oil-producing nation, and economists are watching the markets, business sector, and political situation in Caracas closely.

10. Environment

Venezuela offers a variety of natural habitats: from the Amazon Rain Forest to the plains of Coro (los llanos ), from the idyllic beaches on the islands to the Andes mountains, and from Angel Falls to the cities. Caracas has been blessed with an ideal location in a valley, warm days and cool nights, and proximity to the beaches. The Guiare River flows through the city (though difficult to see through the skyscrapers). Though its lush surroundings, good climate, and palm trees make it beautiful, Caracas suffers from severe environmental problems that are worsening because of rapid urbanization. The city in the valley is surrounded by hillsides that are covered in rachos, makeshift housing and slums where poverty, crime, and desperation prevail.

Caraqueños' reputation for loving their cars is also catching up with them. Traffic and pollution are at all-time highs, and government plans to help quell them have thus far been unsuccessful.

Caraqueños and other Venezuelans are feeling the pain of environmental degradation more than ever. In December 1999, excessive rains caused devastating flooding across the northern coast of Venezuela. The area around Caracas was devastated, and between 30,000 and 50,000 people perished; the exact figure is still unknown. Many environmental experts are particularly concerned because the rapid deforestation of the mountains around the Caracas valley resulted in the earth being incapable of absorbing the rainwater. Further, much of the makeshift housing that was unregulated by the government simply could not withstand the rains. Looking to the future, the government will likely have to develop more successful measures of protecting the environment of Caracas, as well as its citizens.

11. Shopping

Shoppers will be delighted in Caracas only if they are not expecting the large, inexpensive Indian markets typical of many Latin American cities. The well-known Sabana Grande, a one-mile boulevard where no cars are allowed, extends beyond Plaza Venezuela. It is known for its upscale boutiques, shoe stores, perfume shops, and bookstores. The many outdoor cafes also give Sabana Grande a European feel. This is not a typical Latin American market place with inexpensive handicrafts; it is the typical Caracas-sophisticated and trendy shopping experience. The Artesanía Venezolana store is well known for its excellent selection of local handi-crafts.

The Central Comercial Ciudad Tamanaco (CCCT) is the continent's largest shopping mall and has one of Caracas's best collections of boutiques. This mall also includes bistros and movie theaters. The older shopping mall of Paseo Las Mercedes, located in the wealthy Las Mercedes neighborhood, has a variety of stores and an excellent bookstore.

For those desiring the more traditional markets, Caracas is not the best city, but there are still several. The Mercado Coche, near the Nuevo Circo bus terminal is the most centrally located. The Mercado Guiacaipuro is more colorful and located on Avenida Andrés Bello. The flea market of Mercado de la Pulgas is open weekends in the parking lot of the Universidad Central de Venezuela's baseball stadium. Finally, the Mercado Chino is a unique market that attracts Chinese who come to buy and sell Chinese vegetables and other food not available elsewhere. It is located near the metro stop Chacaíto.

12. Education

The Venezuelan educational system improved with the oil boom of the 1970s. Today there is a compulsory (required) six-year primary education, and the literacy rate is 91 percent. This high rate is due to the economic prosperity provided by the oil industry. However, since the more difficult economic situation of the 1980s and 1990s, cuts in education have affected many schools.

In Caracas, like other Venezuelan cities, children may go to private primary (compulsory), secondary, and professional schools. Public schools in Caracas tend to be less well kept and supplied than the private, tuition based schools. In order to continue after bachiller, or high school, students must achieve certain scores on college-entrance exams. Once passing, they may attend any of the public or private institutions across the country. Caracas hosts the country's largest and oldest university. The Universidad Central de Caracas was founded in 1785 and has approximately 70,000 students. It offers a variety of disciplines, including medicine, law, journalism, and engineering. Another large university located in Caracas is the private Universidad Católica Andrés Bello, named after the famous educator of liberator Simón Bolívar.

13. Health Care

Caracas has the typical private and public health care system of the rest of the country. There are many farmacias (pharmacies) across the city, and in most neighborhoods there is one that is de turno, or open late into the night. Most medicines are available over the counter. There are several private clinics and hospitals available to visitors in Caracas and though sanitary conditions are better than many Latin American countries, they are not what many Westerners are used to in the United States or Europe. It is generally safe to drink the water out of the faucet in Caracas, but it is not recommended to eat at the many outside food stands, and it is recommended to avoid salads and uncooked meats.

14. Media

Caracas has two of the best and largest newspapers in Venezuela. El Universal and El Nacional are both sold countrywide and cover national and international topics, business and economics, culture, and sports. The Daily Journal is an English-language newspaper published in Caracas that also covers national and international affairs and society and culture. Most of the almost 20 radio stations in the city cover imported pop and rock music, but several also cover classical and jazz, the best of which is La Emisora Cultural on 97.7 FM. There are three private television stations (Radio Caracas la Televisión, Venevisión, and Televén) and one public station (Venezolana de Televisión) that are run out of Caracas and broadcast countrywide. They all feature the general film, music, sports, and cultural programming. Telenovelas, or soap operas, dominate prime-time programming; Venezuela is famous for its telenovelas, which are popular all over Latin America.

15. Sports

Locally called béisbol, baseball is the sport of choice for Venezuelans, including the Caraqueños. Two of the national teams are from Caracas: the Leones and Tiburones. Visitors to the city from mid-October to January will find it easy to get tickets to see one of the local teams play. Many Caraqueños also enjoy spending a day at the local horse track of La Rinconada. The track was once considered one of the best in Latin America, and though cutbacks have decreased its notoriety, it is a good, large track with stables for 2,000 horses and seats for 48,000 fans.

16. Parks and Recreation

Parque del Este (at Parque del Este metro stop) is the largest city park, and its cactus garden is a good place for walks. One of the city's two zoos, the Parque Zoológico El Pinar is located in the southwestern part of the city. Also located in the southwestern part of the city, the bigger and better Parque Zoológico de Caricuao is more recommended and has hundreds of animals in their native habitats. East of Parque Central (located in the heart of the city), visitors may find the Parque Los Caobos, named so because of its many mahogany trees. This is where bicyclers, mimes and puppeteers, and families gather throughout the week. The Jardín Botánico is a nice relaxing place to rest amidst tropical trees and flowers, though its proximity to the highway can make it a bit noisy. Finally, the Avila National Park is located on top of Mount Avila on the city's north side, but it can be difficult to reach.

17. Performing Arts

Caracas has its share of good theaters; most are open Wednesday through Sunday though some only offer performances on weekends. The Ateneo theater is known to have interesting performances and houses Rajatabla, one of the country's well-known theater groups. Every April, Caracas hosts an International Theater Festival, which is an excellent choice for visitors wishing to see some of Latin America's best theater. The Complejo Cultural Teresa Carreño hosts many concerts and ballets and attracts foreign performers as well as locals. The Aula Magna in the Universidad Central de Venezuela is a recommended performing arts hall with excellent acoustics. This is where the Symphony Orchestra of Caracas performs (usually on Sundays) and where many cultural activities are also performed. For filmgoers, Caracas also has more than 50 cinema theaters, but productions tend to be the imports from the United States.

18. Libraries and Museums

Caracas has the best museums in Venezuela, several of which are well known on the continent. The Galería de Arte Nacional is located opposite Museum de Ciencias Naturales (natural science) and displays 400 works of art from four centuries of Venezuela's disciplines. The Museo de Bellas Artes is located next to it and features temporary exhibitions. A well-known Venezuelan architect, Carlos Raúl Villanueva, designed both. The Museo Criollo is on the ground floor of the Palacio Municipal (across from Plaza Bolivar in the city center) and houses items related to the city's history and works of local artist Raúl Santana.

The Museo Bolivariano, just south of Plaza Bolívar, is located in a colonial house, and it hosts independence documents, weapons, and several portraits of liberator Bolivar. The Museo Fundación John Boulton is in the same area in Torre El Chorro on the eleventh floor. This museum has a collection of historic objects collected by the Bolivar family, including colonial furniture and Bolivar memorabilia.

In the suburb of San Bernardino in the colonial mansion of Quinta de Anauco, visitors will find well-recom-mended Museo de Arte Colonial, which has a variety of works of art and furniture and offers tours in English. The lovely environment is a restored coffee hacienda and contains slave quarters now dedicated to a library on colonial art and history.

In the modern heart of the city, the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo is located in Parque Central. This museum of contemporary art is the best of its kind in the country and also said by many to be the best on the continent. In its 16 halls, famous Venezuelan artists, such as Armando Reverón, Francisco Narváez, Jacobo Borges, and Alejandro Otero, display their works. International artists on display include Chagall, Picasso, Leger, and Miró. The museum also features a collection of approximately 100 engravings by Picasso. Finally, the Museo de los Niños (Children's Museum) is also located in Parque Central and provides interesting visits for kids and adults alike.

19. Tourism

Caracas is no stranger to tourism. As the gateway to the continent, the capital city draws tourists heading to Venezuela's idyllic beaches, to the forests and waterfalls of Parque Nacional de Canaima, as well as many business travelers. There are several tourist offices available throughout the city. The city offers tourists a variety of good museums, excellent restaurants, and a lively night life. Visitors may begin the tour of the city at Plaza Bolivar, the heart of the city center. The Catedral, Palacio de Gobierno and Palacio Municipal are located on the sides of the plaza. In the city center, one may also find the Capitolio Nacional and the Casa Natal de Bolívar, where the famous liberator Simón Bolívar was born. (See also Libraries and Museums above).

20. Holidays and Festivals

New Year's Day

Carnaval (the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday)

Semana Santa
Maundy Thursday and Good Friday

Declaration of Independence
Festival Internacional de Teatro (even years)

Labor Day
Vélorio de Cruz de Mayo

Battle of Carabobo

Independence Day
Bolivar's birthday

Discovery of America

21. Famous Citizens

Simón Bolívar (17831830), Caracas's most famous citizen, known as "El Libertador," the liberator of what is today Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia.

Francisco Miranda (b. 1750), largely credited for paving the way to the independence movement, the mentor under whom Simón Bolívar began his military career.

22. For Further Study


CIA World Factbook. [Online] Available (Accessed January 10, 2000.)

Library of Congress Country Study-Venezuela. [Online] Available (Accessed January 10, 2000.)

Lonely Planet Guides. [Online] Available (Accessed January 10, 2000.)

Government Offices

United States Embassy in Venezuela
Avenida Francisco de Miranda, La Floresta
(58 02) 2852222

Embassy of Venezuela-United States
1099 30th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20007
(202) 3422214

Tourist and Convention Bureaus

Corporación de Turismo (Corporturismo)
Torre Oeste, Parque Central
Piso 37
(58 02) 5078815/5078829

Fairmont International
Plaza Venezuela, Sabana Grande
(58 02) 7828433/7817091

South American Explorers Club
126 Indian Creek Road
Ithaca, NY 14850
(607) 2770488

Venezuelan Tourist Association (VTA)
PO Box 3010
Sausalito, VA 94966
(415) 3322720


El Universal (newspaper)
El Nacional (newspaper)
The Daily Journal (English-language newspaper)


Dempsey, Mary; and Ann Kelosh. Insight Guides Venezuela. APA Publications, 1995.

Fisher, Wenzel, and Willy Haas. Impressions of Venezuela. Caracas, Venezuela: Distribuidora Santiage C.A., 1992.

Grayson, Richard. I Survived Caracas Traffic: Stories from the Me Decades. Avisson Press, Inc., 1996.

Lombardi, John. Venezuela: the Search for Order, the Dream of Progress. New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Marquez, Patricia. The Street is My Home. Stanford University Press, 1999.


views updated May 23 2018


Caracas, the capital of Venezuela as well as that of the municipality of Libertador and the Federal District. The city lies in a narrow valley some 15 miles from east to west. Its northern boundary is a spur of the Coastal Range, whose most famous peak, El Ávila (7,100 feet), dominates the center of the metropolitan area, and whose tallest peak, Naiguaitá (9,000 feet), stands at the eastern end of the valley. The name Caracas honors one of the indigenous peoples of the area.

The Federal District, created in 1909, included the municipalities of Libertador (Caracas) and Vargas (La Guaira). About 12 miles by road from Caracas, La Guaira was until recently the major port of the country. The Metropolitian Area of Caracas was created in 1950 and includes five municipalities (Libertador, Sucre, Baruta, El Hatillo, and Chacao). The city, at an average altitude of 3,400 feet, has a balmy climate. The valley is subject to seismic activity, and Caracas has suffered a number of earthquakes, notably in 1641, 1812, and 1967.


The forbidding coastline of central Venezuela and the resistance of local tribes, particularly under the leadership of Guaicaipuro, delayed the process of Spanish conquest and colonization of the valley. Diego de Losada founded Santiago de León de Caracas in mid-1567. The site, at the western end of the valley, consisted of a central plaza and twenty-four blocks. The first Cabildo (municipal council) to which there is written reference was held in 1568, and the lands and peoples of the valley were divided as booty among the Spaniards who accompanied Losada.

Caracas became the capital of the province of Venezuela in 1578, with a Spanish population of 60 vecinos (entitled residents), corresponding to some 300 persons, and some 7,000 Indians among the encomiendas of the valley. The town received a royal patent as a city in 1591.

By the early 1600s, the economy was based on the production of cacao, corn, and wheat as well as cattle and mules, all of which were traded through the port of La Guaira; the valley also produced sugar, beans, fruit, and other agricultural items for local consumption. In 1636 the bishopric was officially transferred from Coro to Caracas, where the bishops had been resident since 1613. The seventeenth century was one of slow growth, retarded severely by the earthquake of 1641. Estimated population by the end of the century was only some 350 vecinos, or about 1,750 people who could claim to be of Spanish origin.

In the eighteenth century there were important changes in the activities of the city. The Royal and Pontifical University of Caracas was founded in 1725, and in 1728 the Caracas Company (Compañía Guipuzcoana) began its monopoly of the commerce between Spain and Venezuela. In the last quarter of the century, Caracas became the seat for fiscal matters with the creation of the intendancy (1776); for military and political matters with the creation of the captaincy-general of Venezuela (1777), which included the provinces of Cumaná, Guayana, Maracaibo, Margarita, and Trinidad; for judicial and administrative matters with the creation of the audiencia Real (1786); and for commercial and agricultural affairs with the creation of the Consulado Real (1793). In 1804 an archbishopric was established in Caracas and the city became the official religious administrative center. In 1808 it received the first printing press in the colony.

By the end of the colonial period Caracas had an estimated population of 42,000 inhabitants and a very prosperous economic base and had become the administrative center of the colony, but the city itself did not reflect this importance. Its most distinguished public building was the recently constructed San Carlos military barracks. The Plaza Mayor was used as an open-air market. Water flowed down the center of the streets, and sidewalks were unknown, in part because there was no wheeled transport. Although foreigners praised the city for its climate and magnificent geographical setting, its clean streets and pleasant inhabitants, a fellow colonial from Mérida, Antonio Ignacio Rodríguez Picón, said of Caracas in 1803 that only the central streets, where the rich and aristocratic lived, were well paved and pleasing of aspect; that the city was full of blacks, mulattoes, and Canary Islanders; and that it had little more than cockfights as public entertainment. There was no public lighting, and the city retired for the night at nine.


Independence was declared in Caracas on 5 July 1811, and between the long years of warfare and the devastating earthquake of 1812, the city suffered damages that were not fully repaired for more than fifty years. Between 1870 and 1888, however, Antonio Guzmán Blanco held effective power in Venezuela and made a concerted effort to beautify and dignify the capital city. The center of the city received particular attention: the Plaza Bolívar (Mayor) was redesigned, the Capitol was built, and El Calvario became an elegant park. Churches, theaters, aqueducts, boulevards, and the new cemetery General del Sur, which became a monument to mortuarial art, were all constructed. The streets were lighted by gas, a telephone system was installed, and the Caracas-La Guaira railroad was opened in 1883. Railroad connections were extended to Puerto Cabello and Valencia by 1895. This was the last face-lift Caracas would receive for sixty years.


After 1936, improved public-health measures and the development of the petroleum industry combined to increase the population of Caracas at a rapid rate. As can be seen in the accompanying table, the metropolitan area is growing faster than Caracas itself, but attempts to design an overall plan for urban growth have not had much success. The military government of the 1950s built, extended, and improved streets and highways, facilitating the city's expansion and improving connections with the port and airport on the coast. It also continued the urban renewal in the center of the city that was begun by the government of Isais Medina Angarita in the 1940s.

Caracas: Population, 1881–1990
Census yearCaracasMetropolitan area
Table 1

Caracas remains the administrative, commercial, and cultural center of Venezuela. The petroleum revenues that are distributed by the national government tend to stay close at hand, and many companies locate in Caracas because of the ease of communications. Caracas has a number of public and private universities, numerous publishers and newspapers, various theater and ballet groups (both public and private), and several orchestras and ensembles. Cultural life tends to coalesce in the environs of the Teresa Carreño Cultural Complex in the sector of Los Caobos. Nearby are the Ateneo, the National Gallery of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of Contemporary Art Sofia Imber, and the Children's Museum.

In the last few decades of the twentieth century new buildings sprung up to such an extent that the valley is completely urbanized; Caracas has passed from being an overgrown town characterized by one- and two-story buildings with red-tiled roofs to a city more defined by skyscrapers. Although the Sierra del Ávila was declared a park, most of the other hillsides have been built up, and the two extremes of the valley are characterized by ranchos (slum housing). The Caracas metropolitan area as of 2007 suffers greatly from inadequate public services, particularly with regard to water and sewage systems. The complex terrain, the rate of growth, and the complications of various local jurisdictions in the metropolitan area are having a devastating effect on the city.

Since the Bolivarian presidency of Hugo Chávez began in 1999, the city has become the site of demonstrations by the working classes in his support and by traditional elites, his detractors, who control most of the media outlets. Juan Barreto, elected mayor in 2004, has forged a sister-city project with London, England, has declared the expropriation of Caracas's most exclusive golf courses to build new housing for the city's underclass, and has declared the capital a "homophobia-free zone." The Caracas Metropolitan District is made of five subdivisions, each with its own mayor—some for and some against Chávez's presidency—so the direction Caracas will eventually take remained unclear.

See alsoCaracas Company; Chávez, Hugo; Colonialism; Indigenous Peoples.


The most comprehensive study of Caracas is the multi-volume collection produced by the Universidad Central De Venezuela, Estudio de Caracas, 8 vols. in 15 pts. (1967–1973). One classic study of the city, also published in commemoration of its 400th anniversary, is José Antonio De Armas Chitty, Caracas: Origen y trayectoría de una ciudad, 2 vols. (1967).

Almandoz Marte, Arturo, ed. Planning Latin America's Capital Cities, 1850–1950. New York: Routledge, 2002.

De Sola Ricardo, Irma. Contribución al estudio de los planos de Caracas: La ciudad y la provincia, 1567–1967 (1967). Among the hundreds of books describing the city and its customs, a frequently cited one is Arístides Rojas, Crónicas de Caracas: Antología (1962).

García Ponce, Antonio. Los pobres de Caracas, 1873–1907: Un estudio de la pobreza urbana. Caracas: Instituto Municipal de Publicaciones, Alcaldía de Caracas, 1995.

López Bohórquez, Alí Enrique. La Real Audiencia de Caracas: Estudios. Mérida, Venezuela: Ediciones del Rectorado de la Universidad de Los Andes, 1998.

Mago de Chópite, Lila, and José Jesús Hernández Palomo. El Cabildo de Caracas (1750–1821). Caracas: Cabildo Metropolitano de Caracas: Universidad Pedagógica Experimental Libertador, 2002.

Márquez, Patricia C. The Street Is My Home: Youth and Violence in Caracas. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999.

Martín Frechilla, Juan José. Diálogos reconstruidos para una historia de la Caracas moderna. Caracas: Universidad Central de Venezuela, Consejo de Desarrollo Científico y Humanístico, 2004.

Moreno, Antonio Arellano. Caracas: Su evolución y su régimen legal, 2d ed. (1972). A specialized book of interest is Marco Aurelio Vila, Área Metropolitana de Caracas (1965).

Myers, David J., and Henry A. Dietz, eds. Capital City Politics in Latin America: Democratization and Empowerment. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2002.

Núñez, Enrique Bernardo. La ciudad de los techos rojos: Calles y esquinas de Caracas, 4th ed. (1973).

Paiva, Antonio. Relevance of Metropolitan Government in Latin American Cities: Inter-institutional Coordination in Caracas, Venezuela and Monterrey, Mexico. Delft, Netherlands: Eburon, 2003.

Sanoja, Mario, and Iraia Vargas Arenas. El agua y el poder: Caracas y la formación del estado colonial caraqueño, 1567–1700. Caracas: Banco Central de Venezuela, 2002.

                                          Susan Berglund


views updated May 29 2018


CARACAS , capital of *Venezuela; population, 4,000,000; estimated Jewish population, 15,700 (2003).

There are few references to the arrival of Jews in Caracas during the colonial period, although the presence of some *Crypto-Jews was recorded in 1642. This capital was considered by Jews as an unattractive destination, due to fear of the long hand of the Inquisition and the prohibition against residence for those who did not profess the Catholic faith. After 1819, when the government of New Granada gave the Nación Hebrea (Jews of Iberian origin) the right to settle in the country, granting them religious liberty and proclaiming the abolition of the Inquisition, the first groups of Jews, Sephardim of Dutch origin, started to arrive and to settle in Caracas. The support given by these Jews to Simón Bolívar is well known. In 1827 Elías Mocatta, a prominent businessman of English nationality who had resided in Caracas since 1825, was appointed by the foreign colonies as their representative to welcome the Liberator in his visit to the city. Distinguished personalities during this period were Samuel Hoheb, who published Menasseh ben Israel's Esperanza de Israel, and Angel Jacobo Jesurun, who translated and published the Tratado de Moral y Religión of S. Cahen and Memorias de un Médico of A. Dumas.

A new wave of Sephardim coming from North Morocco commenced towards the end of the 19th century. Within a few decades they established the first of the Jewish commercial companies that later prospered and became pioneers in various industries. The Moroccan Jews founded the Sociedad Benéfica Israelita (1907), inaugurated the Jewish cemetery (1916), and gathered for prayers in private houses. Greatly devoted to religious tradition, the small group residing in Caracas founded in 1930 the Asociación Israelita de Venezuela (aiv), whose first objective was to build a synagogue. Since then, this institution has united, represented, and provided services to all the Sephardi community of Venezuela. In 1939, the aiv inagurated the El Conde synagogue, but the building had to be demolished in 1963 to make way for an avenue and was replaced by the present Great Sephardi Synagogue, Tiferet Israel.

In this period the following Jewish periodicals were founded in Caracas: Macabeo (1922), Israel (1933), Prensa Judía (1944), Paz (1946), and the weeklies El Mundo Israelita (1943) and Unión (1968).

In the second decade of the 20th century, under the dictatorship of General Juan Vicente Gómez and the Venezuelan oil boom, Sephardi Jews from Greece, Turkey, Palestine, Yugoslavia, and Bulgaria arrived in Caracas, along with Jews from Yemen, Persia, Syria, and Lebanon. At the same time the first Ashkenazi Jews from Romania, Poland, and Austria settled in Caracas. In 1931, they founded the Sociedad Israelita Aschkenazit and later the Centro Social y Cultural Israel, which merged in 1950 to establish the Unión Israelita de Caracas (uic), representing the majority of the Ashkenazi community. In 1961, the uic laid the cornerstone of its synagogue and social center, acquiring its own cemetery. In 1984, a congregation of Lubavitch Chabad was established in Caracas; it came to possess an impressive synagogue. In more recent years small groups of people from the same communities of origin have founded their own synagogues, maintaining their affiliation with the two mother organizations, the Sephardi aiv and the Ashkenazi uic.

During wwii, Venezuela did not have an open door policy towards the Jews who were able to escape from Europe. Nevertheless, the Law of Immigration and Colonization of 1936 provided a way, under certain conditions, for emigrants to enter the country. The country was moving towards democracy. A Jewish Committee for Refugees was established in Caracas, and thanks to its intercession, in 1939, the president of the republic, General Eleazar López Contreras, was able to bring to a happy conclusion the tragic voyage of the ship Koenigstein: its 165 Jewish passengers from Austria were permitted to disembark. In the 1940s, new groups of refugees from Eastern and Central Europe were admitted, and in 1946, the Comité Venezolano pro-Palestina was established under the slogan "Palestine belongs to the Jews and it has to be turned over to the Jews."

In the 1950s and 1960s, Venezuelan Jewry was strengthened by the arrival of relatives of those already established in the city, attracted by the prosperity and liberty characterizing the country, as well as by new immigrants leaving Arab countries after the creation of the State of Israel or emigrating from Central and Eastern Europe.

Sephardim and Ashkenazim, deeply identifying with the new State of Israel, began their own process of integration in social life as well in new family bonds. All the Jewish communities of Caracas were represented in the Confederación de Asociaciones Israelitas (caiv). A fundamental role in this process of integration was played by the creation, in 1950, of the Moral y Luces Herzl-Bialik School by the Unión Israelita de Caracas. After 20 years of successful operation, the school moved to a modern building where over 1,500 children receive their primary and secondary Jewish and general education, and where Sephardim and Ashkenazim share economic, administrative, and academic responsibilities. At the same time, schools of religious orientation have been functioning since the 1970s. In addition to the Congregation of Chabad Lubavitch founded 1984, other small groups of Jews of the same origin later founded their own synagogues, which remain affiliated with the aiv and the uic mother organizations.

With the consolidation of the social and economic position of the immigrant generation, their children, who were born in Venezuela, gradually began to replace the mercantile activities of their parents with employment in the liberal professions. Doctors, engineers, lawyers, and economists graduated from the universities and began to occupy prominent national positions. Thanks to their contribution to society, science, politics, finance, and the arts, the names of distinguished personalities of the community are common currency in the streets of Caracas. The Sofía Imber Museum of Contemporary Art, one of the most important museums in South America, advertises the name of its founder.

Numerous communal organizations conduct intensive activities in culture, sports, and social assistance. The B'nai B'rith, the Yolanda Katz Health Center, the Instituto Cultural Venezolano Israelí, the Instituto Superior de Estudios Judaicos, the Federación Sionista and its affiliated groups, the Hebraica Social, Cultural and Sports Center, the Centro de Estudios Sefardíes, and the Morris E. Curiel Museo Sefardí are but a few of the institutions that are prominent on the national as well as the community level. The weekly Nuevo Mundo Israelita and the quarterly Maguen are prestigious organs of information and of the cultural expression of the community.


M. Nassí, La comunidad ashkenazí de Caracas. Breve Historia Institucional (1981); J. Carciente, La Comunidad Judía de Venezuela (1991); Nuevo Mundo Israelita, Memorias de una Diáspora (2004).

[Jacob Carciente (2nd ed.)]


views updated May 14 2018

Caracas Capital of Venezuela, on the River Guaire. Caracas was under Spanish rule until 1821. It was the birthplace of Simón Bolívar. The city grew after 1930, encouraged by the exploitation of oil. It has the Central University of Venezuela (1725) and a cathedral (1614). Industries: motor vehicles, oil, brewing, chemicals, rubber. Pop. (2002 est.) 1,763,100.