Caracas - Encyclopedia

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CARACAS, the principal city and the capital of the United States of Venezuela, situated at the western extremity of an elevated valley of the Venezuelan Coast Range known as the plain of Chacao, 62 m. S.S.E. of La Guaira, its port on the Caribbean coast, in lat. 10° 30' N., long. 67° 4' W. The plain is about II m. long by 3 m. wide, and is separated from the coast by a part of the mountain chain which extends along almost the entire water front of the republic. It is covered with well-cultivated plantations. The Guaira river, a branch of the Tuy, traverses the plain from west to east, and flows past the city on the south. Among its many small tributaries are the Catuche, Caroata and Anauco, which flow down through the city from the north and give it a natural surface drainage. The city is built at the narrow end of the valley and at the foot of the Cerro de Avila, and stands from 2887 to 3442 ft. above sea level, the elevation of the Plaza de Bolivar, its topographical centre, being 3025 ft. Two miles north-east is the famous Silla de Caracas, whose twin summits, like a gigantic old-fashioned saddle (silla), rise to an elevation of 8622 ft.; and the Naiguete, still farther eastward, overlooks the valley from a height of 9186 ft. The climate of Caracas is often described as that of perpetual spring. It is subject, however, to extreme and rapid variations in temperature, to alternations of dry and humid winds (the latter, called catias, being irritating and oppressive), to chilling night mists brought up from the coast by the westerly winds, and to other influences productive of malaria, catarrh, fevers, bilious disorders and rheumatism. The maximum and minimum temperatures range from 84° to 48° F., the annual mean being about 66°, and the daily variation is often as much as 15°. The city is built with its streets running between the cardinal points of the compass and crossing each other at right angles. Two intersecting central streets also divide the city into four sections, in each of which the streets are methodically named and numbered, as North 3rd, 5th, 7th, &c., or West 2nd, 4th, 6th, &c., according to direction and location. This method of numeration dates from the time of Guzman Blanco, but the common people adhere to the names bestowed upon the city squares in earlier times. The streets are narrow, but are clean and well-paved, and are lighted by electricity and gas. There are several handsome squares and public gardens, adorned with statues, trees and shrubbery. The principal square is the Plaza de Bolivar, the conventional centre of the city, in which stands a bronze equestrian statue of Bolivar, and on which face the cathedral, archbishop's residence, Casa Amarilla, national library, general post office and other public offices. The Independencia Park, formerly called Calvario Park, which occupies a hill on the west side of the city, is the largest and most attractive of the public gardens. Among the public edifices are the capitol, which occupies a whole square, the university, of nearly equal size, the cathedral, pantheon, masonic temple (built by the state in the spendthrift days of Guzman Blanco), national library, opera-house, and a number of large churches. The city is generously provided with all the modern public services, including two street car lines, local and long distance telephone lines, electric power and light, and waterworks. The principal water supply is derived from the Macarao river, 15 m. distant. Railway connexion with the port of La Guaira was opened in 1883 by means of a line 23 m. long. Another line (the Gran Ferrocarril de Venezuela) passes through the mountains to Valencia, III m. distant, and two short lines run to neighbouring villages, one to Petare and Santa Lucia, and the other to El Valle. The archbishop of Venezuela resides in Caracas and has ecclesiastical jurisdiction over the dioceses of Ciudad Bolivar, Calabozo, Barquisimeto, Merida and Maracaibo. There are no manufactures of note.

Caracas was founded in 1567 by Diego de Losada under the pious title of Santiago de Leon de Caracas, and has been successively capital of the province of Caracas, of the captaincygeneral of Caracas and Venezuela, and of the republic of Venezuela. It is also one of the two chief cities, or capitals, of the Federal district. It was the birthplace of Simon Bolivar, and claims the distinction of being the first colony in South America to overthrow Spanish colonial authority. The city was almost totally destroyed by the great earthquake of 1812. In the war of independence it was repeatedly subjected to pillage and slaughter by both parties in the strife, and did not recover its losses for many years. In 181o its population was estimated at 50,000; seventy-one years later the census of 1881 gave it only 55,638. In 1891 its urban population was computed to be 72,429, which in 1904 was estimated to have increased to about 90,000.

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