European exploration and settlement

At the time of the arrival of the first Europeans, the land which is now Argentina was sparsely populated with about two-thirds of the indigenous population living in the northwest.
European exploration began in the Río de la Plata estuary when in 1516 Juan de Solís, a Portuguese navigator employed by the Spanish crown, landed on the shore, though his men were soon killed by indigenous Querandí. Four years later he was followed by Ferdinand Magellan who explored the Río de la Plata, before turning south to make his way into the Pacific via the straits north of Tierra del Fuego, now named after him. In 1527 both Sebastian Cabot and his rival Diego García sailed into the estuary and up the Ríos Paraná and the Paraguay. Cabot founded a small fort, Sancti Spiritus, not far from the modern city of Rosario, but it was wiped out by indigenous inhabitants about two years later. Despite these difficulties Cabot took back to Spain stories of a great Indian kingdom beyond the Plata estuary, rich in precious metals, giving the Río de la Plata its misleading name: a translation would be 'river of silver'. A Portuguese expedition to the estuary, led by Affonso de Souza, returned with similar tales, and this led to a race between the two Iberian powers. In 1535, Pedro de Mendoza set out with 16 ships and a well-equipped force of 1600 men and founded a settlement at Buenos Aires (actually he settled closer to San Isidro along the coast), which he gave its present name, originally
Puerto Nuestra Señora Santa María de Buen Ayre. The indigenous inhabitants soon made life too difficult; the settlement was abandoned and Mendoza returned home but not before sending Juan de Ayolas with a small force up the Río Paraná in search of the Indian kingdom.
In 1537 this force founded Asunción, in Paraguay, where the locals were friendly.

After 1535 the attention of the Spanish crown switched to Peru, where Pizarro was engaged in the successful conquest of the Inca Empire, where there was instant wealth in gold and silver and a malleable workforce in the enormous indigenous population. The small settlement at Asunción remained an isolated outpost until, in 1573, a force from there travelled south to establish the city of Santa Fe. Seven years later Juan de Garay refounded Buenos Aires (the city's first ever street bares his name, it is in San Telmo), but it was only under his successor, Hernando Arias de Saavedra (1592-1614), that the new settlement became secure benefiting both from back up in Asunción and from the many cattle brought over by Mendoza which had increased and multiplied meanwhile.

However, before the time of Mendoza's expedition to the Plata estuary, Spanish expeditions were already exploring northern parts of present-day Argentina. In 1535 Diego de Almagro led a party from Peru, which crossed the northwest into Argentina, and in 1543 the Spanish Viceroyalty of Peru was made administrative capital of southern
South America. There was greatly increased motivation for exploring the region, however, when silver deposits were found in Potosí (now in Bolivia), and the Governorship
of Tucumán was set up as an administrative centre as a halfway point between Bolivia and the port of Buenos Aires. Explorations set forth from Chile and Peru to find trade routes and a source of cheap labour to work the mines, and so the oldest towns in Argentina were founded: Santiago del Estero (1553), Mendoza (1561), San Juan (1562), Córdoba (1573), Salta (1582), La Rioja (1591), and Jujuy (1593). A total of 25 cities were founded in present-day Argentina in the 16th century, 15 of which survived, at a time when the total Spanish population was under 2000.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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