The Oldest Capital Cities in the Americas

St. John's in Newfoundland, Canada developed from a European fishing settlement.
St. John's in Newfoundland, Canada developed from a European fishing settlement.

A capital city is a large town where the government coordinates its administrative activities. In the Americas, ancient capital cities were identified in terms of economic activities, size of the population, and political background. Various capital cities were chosen in America but political unrest and a shift in the economic status led to the extinction of some capital cities and emergence of new capital cities in the various states.

The Oldest Known Capital Cities in the Americas

St. John's

The oldest known capital city is St. John's of Canada founded in 1497. St. John's covers 446 square kilometers (172 square miles) and has a population of 200,000. Occupying the eastern region of North American, the city acquired the name from European sailor John Cabot who set eyes on it on the day of the feast to commemorate John the Baptist. A well-established fishing base and a trade center by the Spanish and Portuguese, the city was taken over by English fishermen from 1620.

Santo Domingo

Santo Domingo city of the Dominican Republic was founded in 1498 after the arrival of Bartholomew Columbus. A magnificently planned town on the mouth of Ozama River, Santo Domingo was the Spanish colonial center and the capital of major American Institutions. The current size is 104.4 square kilometers (40.32 square miles) and a population of close to one million people. Most of the ancient architecture has been preserved.

Havana and Panama City

The third oldest cities are both Havana in Cuba and Panama City in Panama, Both found in 1519. The name Havana was coined from a cigar made of tobacco grown in Cuba. It developed as a ship docking port then as a trading center. The current size is 728 square kilometers (281 square miles) with a population of over two million people. The 17th century saw Havana grow exponentially as a transit center for gold and silver. Panama City was initially a fishing hub for Indians. In fact, the name means “plenty of fish.” Panama Viejo was the authority center for Gov. Pedro Arias Davila and it prospered more during bullion shipment but faced threats from pirates. The current city occupies 275 square kilometers (106 square miles) and is home to over one million people.

San Juan

The fifth oldest city is San Juan of the United States. Established in 1521 by Spanish explorers, it grew as a naval base and later as an industrial center to occupy 77 square kilometers (199 square miles) and a population of close to half a million people.

San Salvador

Sixth is San Salvador city located in El Salvador. Founded in 1525 by a Spanish called Pedro de Alvarado the city faced earthquake in 1917 and volcano eruption. Nevertheless, it has grown substantially to the current 71.45 square kilometers (28 square feet) and a population of over 2 million people


The seventh oldest city is Quito in Ecuador. Quito, founded in 1534 by Spanish conquerors derived the name from the local tribe of the “Quitus.” With monumental stone and brick buildings Quito, has evolved to be the largest city occupying 324 square kilometers.


Founded in 1935, Lima in Peru is the eight oldest city. Lima was founded along the agriculturally rich valley of the Rimac River by Spanish explorer Francisco Pizarro. Lima prospered economically in the 17th and 18th centuries due to trade in precious metals leading to rapid population growth.


The ninth oldest city, Asuncion in Paraguay, was established in 1537. Asuncion is named after the feast of Assumption of Virgin Mary by Spanish explorers. Asuncion developed as the center of Spanish colonial expeditions and also as a rich agricultural region along the River Parana. Current size is 117 square kilometers (45.2 square miles) and over half a million people live in the city.


Bogota in Colombia was established in 1538, making it the tenth oldest city. Bogota developed as a center civilization and Spanish naval base. Bogota, which means “planted fields,” has a high population of over 7 million people.


The eleventh oldest city is Santiago in Chile. Santiago was founded in 1541 by the Spanish and is named in commemoration of Saint James. The city weathered many calamities to become a home to over 7 million people and occupies 461 square kilometers (247 square miles).

La Paz

La Paz in Bolivia was founded in 1548, making it the twelfth oldest city. La Paz developed as a major trading route though it was originally an ancient American farmland. The name means “our lady of peace.”


In thirteenth position is the city of Caracas in Venezuela, established in 1567 and named after a Spanish saint. A home to over four million people, the city grew rapidly as a shipping and trading route.


Tegucigalpa in Honduras, founded in 1578, is the fourteenth oldest city. Tegucigalpa saw rapid growth after silver was discovered bringing in many foreigners. Despite many calamities such as hurricanes, the city has grown to occupy 1,514 square kilometers (585 square miles) and more than one million people.

Buenos Aires

In 1580, the city of Buenos Aires was founded in Argentina, making it the fifteenth oldest city in the Americas. Buenos Aires was a seaport town where trade and restocking of ships took place. The name means “good air/ winds."

Maritime Locations of the Oldest Capital Cities

All the ancient cities were founded along the seashores and developed due to commercial activities and fishing along the route. Many faced man-made and natural calamities such as war, floods, hurricane, pirate attacks, and fire but were rebuilt to be the modern-day world-class destinations.

The Oldest Capital Cities in the Americas

RankCityCountryYear Founded
1St. John'sCanada1497
2Santo Domingo Dominican Republic1498
4Panama CityPanama1519
5San JuanUnited States1521
6San SalvadorEl Salvador1525
12La PazBolivia1548
15Buenos AiresArgentina1580

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