History of the city of San Pedro Sula

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  • Where the Chamelecón River begins to flow in the Sula Valley, at the foot of the Merendón mountain range, is the city of San Pedro Sula. After defeating several cacicazgos that occupied the Sula Valley in a “brutal war” , Pedro de Alvarado, founded on June 27, 1536, the town of San Pedro de Puerto Caballos.

    See also more details in Municipality of San Pedro Sula

    As described by Gerónimo de San Martín, scribe of King Carlos V, “the very magnificent Mr. Don Pedro de Alvarado, advance of the provinces of Guatemala, captain general” and “major justice” of the government of Honduras “founded” and “populated the town of San Pedro de Puerto de Caballos”, “he made a general distribution of the towns and native Indians of the land to the neighbors… settlers and conquerors” of the town.

    Table of Contents

    First Inhabitants

    In the Sula Valley, several ethnic groups coexisted, whose linguistic origin is Nahuatl-Mayoid and Circum-Caribbean. Its technological development is a matter of discussion due to the finish of its domestic utensils and the use of bas-relief on marble vessels from the current archaeological zone of “Playa de los Muertos”, San Manuel Cortés. It is believed that the Tolupans of the Montaña de La Flor were the largest ethnic group. (Stone 1944)

    Where the Chamelecón River begins to flow in the Sula Valley, at the foot of the Merendón mountain range, is the city of San Pedro Sula. At the time of the conquest, San Pedro Sula and its surroundings were densely populated. The Indians were taken by the thousands, branded like cattle, divided among the Spaniards, and treated with the utmost cruelty by the Spaniards. Believing that the supply of Indians would be inexhaustible, they forced them to work beyond their endurance in the plantations and mines, where only death relieved the poor Indians of their suffering.

    Such was the excess of work that was imposed on the indigenous people, says the historian, José Milla in his book, Historia de Centroamérica; that in the year 1539, upon his return from Spain, to resume the government of Guatemala, conquered by him a few years before; Alvarado had a road made from Puerto Caballos to San Pedro.

    This road was wide enough to allow two loaded mule trains to pass. It was finished in the short space of ten days by the indigenous people, so that Alvarado, his wife, Doña Beatriz, their maids and followers could comfortably cross their heavy luggage and weapons.»

    The indigenous people who occupied the Sula Valley, approximately fifty thousand when the Spanish terror was imposed, were reduced by half. By 1582 the indigenous population of Sampedrana was 415 Indians, and 135 in 1735.


    Originally the town was established in the indigenous town called “Tholoma”, north of the current city and very close to Puerto Cortes. Due to its proximity to the port, the town of San Pedro was the victim of attacks and looting by European pirates who landed in that port.

    In 1592 French pirates landed in Puerto Caballos. They took the port; “They burned the town and, enraged with victory, they wanted to continue towards San Pedro Sula.” with the purpose of destroying the village. But these were stopped by “comendador Jerónimo Sánchez de Carranza (Governor of the province of Honduras), who marched to meet him, at the head of some Spaniards, cowboy muleteers and Indian archers.”

    The Olonese

    At the end of the 1660’s Jean-David Nau, better known as François l’Olonnais or “El Olonés” after having taken Puerto Caballos ( Puerto Cortés ) headed towards the town of San Pedro. Upon his arrival, the Olonese observed “how well fortified the town was.” “It was also surrounded by trenches and mudflats strewn with thorns.” “This increased the pirate’s courage.”

    The Olonese consolidated his men and started the fight. According to the writer Pedro Pérez Valenzuela. «Those of San Pedro defended themselves resolutely. The fight lasted four hours, close and stubborn. Thirty men had lost the Olones and had twenty wounded. In the midst of all this “the people of San Pedro de San Pedro asked him for a truce” and promised to give him the villa on the condition that the residents be allowed two hours to vacate it.

    «The Olones accepted convinced that otherwise, the fight would last who knows for how long and with what result because the Spaniards defended themselves bravely. After the deadline, he entered the town and found that the neighbors had taken his wealth, the merchants “hidden” their merchandise and there was only a small portion of indigo left. 19 After the failure, the Olones burned the town.

    Due to actions like these and others, the Spanish authorities of San Pedro Sula saw the need to relocate the town on more than one occasion. Until finally, they ended up establishing themselves south of the indigenous town of Azula, near the “Río de las Piedras”.

    Fortress of San Fernando de Omoa

    In 1775 the construction of the San Fernando de Omoa Fortress was completed . This place became an important port for the country and caused the rise of San Pedro, as an intermediate route for the transport of products to the interior of Honduras and vice versa. During this period (1714 – 1789) the population of San San Pedro increased from 70 inhabitants to 375.

    According to the historian, Darío Euraque, after the independence of Honduras in 1821, “San Pedro Sula remained an impoverished village or town that survived simply as a consequence of its functions as a commercial backyard for various commercial networks between Omoa and the interior of the country” course towards the most prosperous regions of the western zone of Honduras.

    On June 28, 1825, the state of Honduras under the direction of the Head of State, Dionisio de Herrera administratively divided the country into 7 departments, leaving San Pedro Sula located in the department of Santa Bárbara.

    Boom of San Pedro Sula for agriculture

    At the end of the 19th century, San Pedro Sula went from being a simple rest and commercial transit village to becoming a generator and exporter of agricultural products. By 1890, 37 miles of railroad had been built between Puerto Cortés and San Pedro Sula.

    The Sampedrana population in the middle of the last century was mestizo, with a culture that contained elements from Europe, Mesoamerica and the Caribbean. By 1888, three centuries after its foundation, the city had barely 1,714. Its development was very slow, having poverty as one of the main obstacles. This factor prevented the operation of a school, because there was no money to pay a teacher.

    Back then, San Pedro Sula was nothing more than a rural town and the children worked with their parents in the cultivation of milpas. The growth of your city occurred at the beginning of the 20th century with the arrival of banana cultivation by foreign companies. This gave rise to the immigration of settlers from different parts of the country to such an extent that in 1900 the population reached a total of 5,000 inhabitants and in 1920 it already exceeded 10,000.

    In addition, San Pedro already had 5,000 inhabitants (1891) dedicated mostly to agriculture. Just three years earlier (1888), 54,000 pounds of coffee were exported to the United States. Also, in that same year, San Pedro exported 39,000 pounds of sarsaparilla, 1,311 pounds of indigo, 30,000 pounds of rubber, and 100,000 bunches of bananas to the United States.

    Appointment as Department Head

    Two years later (1890), San Pedro increased its production of coffee and bananas. During this time, 180,000 pounds of coffee were produced for export and 400,000 bunches of bananas were shipped to the United States as reported by the US Consul. in Honduras, James Peterson on June 6, 1891. During this period, General Domingo Vásquez, President of the Republic, created the Department of Cortés (July 4, 1893), and designated San Pedro Sula as the Departmental capital.

    The rise of banana cultivation and the arrival of transnational companies led by William F. Streich and Samuel Zemurray, marked the economic and demographic takeoff of San Pedro Sula. Strong migratory currents, from the interior of the country, as well as Palestinian, North American, and European foreigners arrived to contribute to the development of the city. However, the arrival of these foreign companies meant that independent Honduran banana growers lost control of the banana plantations.

    Between 1920 and 1930, banana production represented for Honduras between 75 and 85 percent of exports. San Pedro Sula benefited enormously from the taxes coming from the banana companies. Even more so than any other municipality in the department of Cortés.

    Growth and Modernization

    By 1949 the city had a population of 21,139 inhabitants, it was the urban center with the largest manufacturing and industrial production in the country, it had a number of financial institutions and by then almost all trade was in the hands of foreigners, with almost no management of national merchants. It had a collective consumption service such as: drinking water and sewage network, electricity, paved streets and avenues, public transportation, etc.

    The existing commercial establishments were classified as first, second and third category, according to the number of employees they had. These establishments paid their taxes, according to the classification of the Municipal government, thus constituting a source of income for the municipality.

    At the beginning of the 20th century, there was an urgent need to organize the physical space of the City that would allow it to give a better appearance and distribution of its streets, avenues and houses to be built in the future. This has allowed San Pedro Sula to be organized today, both in the commercial area and in the location of the houses to be occupied by the existing population. This accredits it as the second most important city in Honduras, surpassing at the same time, both in population and in economic power, the other non-capital cities of Central America.

    Currently, the population of the city of San Pedro Sula is more than 500,000 inhabitants, it has educational centers, at the primary, secondary and higher levels, health centers, industries that account for approximately 28.5% of the population economically active Sampedrana, shopping centers that have improved the physical appearance of the city and a number of other elements that contribute to its economic and social development.

    Although the industry of Honduras is incipient in its development, from the beginning it has been strongly concentrated in San Pedro Sula to such an extent that it has been called “INDUSTRIAL CAPITAL OF HONDURAS” , in recent years there has been a notable increase in industrial activities in the municipalities surrounding San Pedro Sula, thus reducing the relative predominance of Industry in the municipality of San Pedro Sula. However, although the Industrial concentration at the national level may decrease, its condensation in the metropolitan area is even stronger.

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