Legacy of colonial past

PARAGUAY declared itself an independent state in 1811, around 300 years after the arrival of the first Spanish settlers.

By that time, the indigenous people and colonialists had merged to produce the most ethnically homogenous population of South America. Today, 90.8% of Paraguayans are “mestizos”, of mixed Spanish and Guarani Indian descent. The two national official languages are Spanish and Guarani.

Asunción, the capital, today a thriving modern city, dates back to the earliest years of the colonial period. Founded on the banks of the Paraguay River by Juan de Salazar y Espinoza in 1537, seven years after the arrival of Sebastian Cabot, it began as a fortified town and was used by the conquistadors as a base in their search for Eldorado.

Christianity came with the Franciscan priests who accompanied the conquistadors, and flourished after the arrival of the Jesuits. Given official recognition in 1608 by virtue of an order from Philip III of Spain, the Jesuits took responsibility for the welfare of the indigenous people, and protected them from slave-traders.

They founded mission settlements, or “reducciones”, where the Guarani worked the land, enjoyed the benefits of schools and hospitals, and produced handicrafts, including remarkable church altarpieces, sculptures, and paintings.

Seven of the largest Jesuit reducciones in South America are in Paraguay, and those in Jesus de Taravangu and Trinidad del Paraná have been declared Universal Patrimony of Humanity by UNESCO.

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