View of the Carranza Lighthouse (Faro Venustiano Carranza) in the city of Veracruz, Mexico. Editorial credit: TLF Images /

Heroica Veracruz

Veracruz is a city located on the southeast coast of Mexico. Its Spanish name literally means “True Cross”. First built by the Spaniards in the early 16th century, it was the first European settlement in Mexico. In fact, it was here that Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes trained his men to fight and overthrow the Aztec Empire. Over time, Veracruz became the most significant port in the Spanish colony of New Spain. It continued to have strategic significance after Mexico became independent, which is why it has been repeatedly beset by armed conflicts. Today, it is a vibrant city of more than 900,000 people of many different ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

Geography Of Veracruz

Veracruz port
The port of Veracruz.

There are actually two cities in Mexico called Veracruz. Both are located on the Gulf coast of southeastern Mexico, in the central part of the state that has the same name. The larger city of Veracruz is known as Heroica Veracruz, which translates as “Heroic True Cross”. Next to it, to the southeast, is the smaller city of Veracruz, known as Veracruz Llave, or “True Cross Key”. Heroica Veracruz and part of Veracruz Llave are part of the greater Municipality of Veracruz. To the south of Veracruz is the Municipality of Boca Del Rio and the Reserva Natural Estatal Arroyo Moreno (Arroyo Moreno State Nature Preserve). The small Municipality of Baseruruo is situated to Veracruz’s north. To the west of Veracruz are several smaller cities and towns, including Valente Diaz, Los Amapolas, and Las Bajadas. The Veracruz International Airport is sandwiched in between Las Bajadas and Las Amapolas. Veracruz is made up of many different neighborhoods. The downtown areas of both Heroica Veracruz and Veracruz Llave are situated close to the coast. There are also several lakes located in Veracruz, the largest of which is called Laguna Real, at the southern end of Heroica Veracruz. 

Population Of The City

The population of metropolitan Veracruz is approximately 930,000, making it the biggest city in the state of Veracruz. The city is home to people of many different cultures, most of them indigenous, though there are also people of Spanish and African heritage.


Veracruz port
The Port of Veracruz.

Arguably, Veracruz’s most valuable economic asset is its port, which has been important since colonial times, when it was the most significant port in all of New Spain. Today, the port of Veracruz is the third busiest port in all of Mexico. It is particularly important for the auto industry. In fact, the port is equipped specifically for shipping automobiles, and is closer to automobile manufacturers in the country than other ports. The port of Veracruz also has better access to both import and export markets in the United States, Europe, Central and South America compared to other ports in Mexico.   

History Of Veracruz

The first Europeans to visit the site of present-day Veracruz were Spanish explorers Juan de Grijalva and Bernal Díaz del Castillo, who landed on what is now the island of San Juan de Ulua in 1518. This initial expedition detected the presence of gold in the area. Thus, one year later, another voyage was undertaken, this time led by Hernan Cortes. Cortes and his men landed on the shore opposite the island of San Juan de Ulua. There, they founded the settlement of Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz, or “Rich Village of the True Cross”. The term “Villa Rica” referred to the gold present in the area, while “Vera Cruz” was added to the name because Cortes’ expedition landed on the Christian holiday of Good Friday. This new settlement was the first European settlement in Mexico. It was also notable for having the first city council in the Americas, which was established after Cortes expelled the local Aztec leaders.

The port of Veracruz quickly turned into the most vital port of New Spain. As many of the indigenous inhabitants were dying of diseases brought over by Europeans, the Spaniards used the port to import African slaves, who were sent to work on sugarcane plantations. In fact, in the 16th century, the state of Veracruz had more slaves than anywhere else in Mexico. By the end of the 16th century, the Spaniards built roads linking Veracruz with other important urban centers, such as Cordoba, Orizaba, Puebla, Perote, and Xalapa, which is the current capital of the state of Veracruz. To protect the city and its port from pirates, who wanted to loot the gold and silver exports, the Spaniards constructed a fortress on the aforementioned island of San Juan de Ulua. In the early 17th century, major public buildings, some of which still stand today, were constructed.

The Municipal Palace of Veracruz in 1932. Image credit: Sigvald Linné, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

During the 19th century, Veracruz was beset by armed conflicts, such as the Mexican War of Independence, the Pastry War, and the Mexican Civil War. By 1902, the city’s port facilities were deteriorating, and Veracruz became one of the most dangerous places on the coast of North America. Efforts were soon made, however, to modernize the port’s facilities. During the rest of the 20th century, the port of Veracruz was beset by workers’ unrest, causing the Mexican government to introduce reforms aimed at placating workers’ concerns and improving the port’s administration. In the early 21st century, Veracruz saw the growth of commercial development mainly in newer areas in the city’s south, as well as the neighboring municipality of Boca del Rio. In 2010, the city suffered a major catastrophe when a hurricane came through, causing severe damage and affecting half a million people.

Attractions In Veracruz

Veracruz Cathedral
View of the Main Plaza (Zocolo) of the city of Veracruz, with the Veracruz Cathedral, in Mexico.

Most of the attractions in Veracruz pertain to its history. They include the Municipal Palace of Veracruz, which was built for the city council in 1608, and remodelled in the 18th century; the Cathedral of Veracruz, which was completed in 1731 and modified in the 19th century; Fort San Juan de Ulua; and the main cultural center of the city, which is the city’s main plaza, officially called the Plaza de las Armas, though often referred to as the Zocalo. One more modern attraction in Veracruz is the Acuario (Aquarium) de Veracruz, which was first built in 1992, with renovations and additions done in later years. It is now the biggest aquarium in Mexico and all of Latin America.


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