Because of the lack of a large and rich indigenous empire at the time of the arrival of the Spaniards, the conquest of Costa Rica is euphemistically called a "settlement" by some writers. In reality, the Spanish arrival was accompanied by diseases to which the Indians had no resistance, and they died of sickness as much as by the sword. Also the Indians did try to fight the Spanish, the small number of natives were unable to stop the ever larger groups of Spaniards that arrived every few years attempting to colonize the land. The first arrival was Christopher Columbus himself, who landed near present-day Puerto Limón on September 18th 1502 during his fourth and last voyage to the Americas. He was treated well by the coastal Indians during his stay of 17 days, and he noted that some of the native people wore gold decorations. Because of this, the area was dubbed "Costa Rica" (rich coast) by the Spaniards, who imagined that a rich empire must lie farther inland.
Spanish Kink Ferdinand appointed Diego de Nicuesa governor of the region and sent him to colonize it in 1506. This time the Indians did not provide a friendly welcome - perhaps they had become aware of the deadly diseases that accompanied the Europeans. The colonizers were hampered by the jungle, tropical diseases, and the small band of Indians who used guerrilla tactics to fight off the invaders. About half the colonizers died and rest return home, unsuccessful.
Further expeditions followed. The most successful, from the Spaniards point of view was a 1522 expedition to the Golfo de Nicoya area led by Gil González Dávila. This was a bloodthirsty affair, with large numbers of the indigenous inhabitants killed of tortured for minor reasons. Although the expedition returned home with a hoard of gold and other treasures and claimed to have converted tens of thousands of Indians to Catholicism, it was unable to form a permanent colony and many expedition members died of hunger and disease.
By the 1560's the Spanish had unsuccessfully attempted colonization several more times. By this time, indigenous resistance such as it was, had been worn-down; many Indians had died or were dying of disease and other had simply moved on to more inhospitable terrain, which was unattractive to the invaders.
In 1562, Juan Vásquez de Coronado arrived as governor and decided that the best place to found a colony, Cartago, was in the central highlands. This was an unusual move; the Spanish were a seafaring people and had naturally tried to colonize the coastal areas where they could build ports and maintain contact with Spain, but they realized that this was problematic because the coastal areas harboured disease. When Coronado founded Cartago in 1563, his followers encountered a healthy climate and fertile volcanic soil, and the colony survived.
Cartago was quite different from Spanish colonies in other parts of the new world. There were few Indians, so the Spanish did not have a huge workforce available, nor did they intermarry with indigenous people to form the "mestizo" culture prevalent in many other parts of Latin America. The imagined riches of Costa Rica turned out to be very little and were quickly plundered. The small highland colony soon became removed from the mainstream of Spanish influence.
For the next century and a half, the colony remained forgotten backwater, isolated from the coast and major trading routes. It survived only by dint of hard work and the generosity and friendliness that have become the hallmarks of contemporary Costa Rica character.
In the 18th century, the colony began to spread and change. Settlements became established throughout the fertile plains of the central highlands (now known as the meseta central). Heredia was founded in 1706, San José in 1737, and Alajuela in 1782, although at the times of their founding the cities had different names.
Much of Cartago was destroyed in an eruption of Volcán Irazú in 1723, but the survivors rebuilt the town. This expansion reflected slow growth from within Costa Rica, but the colony remained one of the poorest and most isolated in the Spanish empire.
Pictures by ICT, Instituto Costarricense de Tourismo y Jörn Malek. The team of 1-CostaRicaLink and Costa-Rica-Information-Mobile wishes you the best of times in our little paradise called Costa Rica.
Text by Lonely Planet.
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