Maracaibo, second largest city in Venezuela, is a major seaport situated on the western bank of the channel between Lake Maracaibo, the largest, oldest lake in South America, and the Gulf of Venezuela. Maracaibo is the capital of the state of Zulia. Its population grew from less than 50,000 in 1915 to over an estimated 1.4 million in 2007. Settled first by Ambrosio Alfinger, it was officially founded in 1571 under the leadership of Alonso Pacheco Maldonando. The city has long served as a major port for western Venezuela and eastern Colombia, especially for the export of mountain-grown coffee. In 1667 the Dutch attacked Maracaibo, and in 1669 Henry Morgan captured it. During the twentieth century the city has flourished due to the discovery of oil in the region. Indeed, the largest oil fields in the country are found in the Lake Maracaibo basin, and they figure significantly in Venezuela's status as the world's fifth largest oil exporter. Throughout its history, Maracaibo has served as the center of numerous separatist movements. Its population includes descendants of German immigrants, who comprise a significant part of the city's merchants.
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Winthrop R. Wright
Maracaibo (märäkī´bō), city (1990 pop. 1,249,670), capital of Zulia state, NW Venezuela, at the outlet of Lake Maracaibo. It is Venezuela's second largest city, a commercial and industrial center, and the oil capital of South America. Besides oil, exports include lumber, processed textiles, and soap. Maracaibo was founded in 1571. In the 17th cent., it was sacked five times, notably by Sir Henry Morgan in 1669. Until the establishment of the oil industry after 1918, Maracaibo was extremely underdeveloped; but exploitation by foreign interests of the vast petroleum resources of the Maracaibo basin resulted in a rapid expansion and modernization of the city. The dredging of the lake also increased Maracaibo's importance as a shipping point for inland products. The c.5-mi-long (8-km) Gen. Rafael Urdaneta Bridge is south of the city. Maracaibo has a university.