Maracaibo is the second-largest city in Venezuela. It is located in western Venezuela, part of the state of Zulia, on the banks of Lake Maracaibo. One of Columbus' sailors, Alonso de Ojeda, first discovered the location in 1499, during the second voyage that Columbus made to the Americas.
Maracaibo supposedly was founded three times. In 1529, Ambrosio Alfinger, a German conquistador, first settled the village. He met with great native opposition, and in 1535, Nicolas de Federman evacuated the settlement, moving the population to Cabo de la Vela. In 1571, Captain Alonso Pacheco attempted another settlement. Some consider this the true foundation of the city; others maintain that the true founding was in 1574 by Captain Pedro Maldonado under Governor Diego de Mazariego's command. Maldonado named the village Nueva Zamora de Maracaibo, supposedly in honor of Zamora, Spain (where the governor was born).
The city's first major role came in 1668, when pirates attacked and destroyed Gibraltar, the entry point for inland settlements. Maracaibo then became the entry point. The city entered the Venezuelan war of independence in 1821, when Zulia declared independence and sought to ally itself with Colombia. The revolutionists finally captured the city in 1823, in the Battle of Lake Maracaibo.
Culture and Commerce
Maracaibo is one of Venezuela's top oil centers. The city is administered in two municipalities, and the local inhabitants, the Maracuchos, have a strong sense of independence and pride, and work hard to keep their cultural heritage alive. The city also still has "palafitos"--huts built out on top of the lake. There are several villages made up of palafitos. One of the most interesting attractions in the city, Vereda del Lago Park, is a lakefront park with sports facilities, an ostrich farm and a zoo.
The name "Maracaibo" has several potential origins, none of which are confirmed. It is rumored that the name came from that of a native boy, Mara, who died fighting the Germans (the loose translation being "Mara fell"). Another possibility is that the name derives from the phrase "Maara-iwo," meaning "Place where serpents abound." The city also is called "La Tierra del Sol Amada" ("The Land Beloved by the Sun").
Lake Maracaibo is the largest lake in Venezuela, and the 23rd largest lake in the world. While its expanse once isolated western Zulia from the rest of Venezuela, this is no longer the case. The General Rafael Urdaneta Bridge spans the lake, a little over 8.5 miles long. The bridge took five years to build and cost about $1 million. Between the bridge traffic and the industry built around boat transportation, the lake is a large part of Maracaibo commerce.