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Guadalajara History

Neoclassical Mexican theatre, Teatro Degollado, in Guadalajara
Credit: J A Nicoli | Fotolia

Guadalajara history began with the conquest of Mexico by Spain. In 1532, Mesa del Cerro (now known as Nochistlan, Zacatecas) was established as the first settlement of Guadalajara. The site was settled by Cristobal de Onate and commissioned by Nuno de Guzman to secure recent Spanish conquests and defend against the indigenous tribes. The settlement disbanded in 1533 because of lack of water and was moved to a location near present day Tonala. Four years later, Guzman ordered the village be moved again, this time to Tlacotan. Finally, on February 14, 1542, the city of Guadalajara was founded at its current site.

Guadalajara’s name comes from the Arab word, “wad-al hidjara,” meaning “river that runs between rocks.”

Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, Guadalajara increased its wealth and influence by importing goods from the Pacific coast and distributing them to the rest of Mexico. The region also achieved greater stability by negotiating peaceful settlements with the indigenous tribes.

In 1791, the University of Guadalajara was established in the city, which was then the capital of the state of Nueva Galicia. The inauguration was held in 1792. Guadalajara became the capital of the new State of Jalisco on May 27, 1824, following Mexico’s war of Independence from Spain.

Guadalajara prospered in the 19th century. Small-scale industries began developing, many started by immigrants from Europe. Rail lines were laid to connect Guadalajara to the Pacific coast and north to the United States, which allowed agricultural products from the region to be shipped to markets. Ranching became a very important part of the area’s economy at that time.

Beginning in the 1930s, Guadalajara began experiencing major growth and exceeded 1 million people by the 1960s. By the 1970s, the city was second in population only to Mexico City.

Iron statue of Beatriz Hernandez in Guadalajara's Historic Center
Credit: Kobby_dagan | Bigstock

Guadalajara underwent a major transformation in the 1950s, replacing outdated buildings with modern architecture, creating wider streets for pedestrians and adding underground parking lots and new shopping centers. The wise city fathers kept the beautiful old buildings you can see today that portray the history and character of Guadalajara.

A major disaster struck the city in 1992, when Guadalajara experienced a major gasoline explosion in the sewer system that killed 206 people, injured nearly 500 and left 15,000 homeless. The damage was estimated at nearly US$1 billion.

Today, Guadalajara is a vibrant metropolitan area of 4.4 million people with a thriving economy built on electrical and electronic products and beer production. The city is called Mexico’s Silicon Valley and is home to many high technology firms like IBM, Kodak, General Electric, Dell, Hewlett Packard, Siemens, Flextronics, Gateway, Hitachi, Solectron and others.