San Salvador, El Salvador

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Situated in the centre of the country, San Salvador is capital of El Salvador and of the San Salvador department. At the foot of the dormant San Salvador volcano, the city is on the Acelhuate River.


Around 3,000 BC the area was populated by Maya and other groups of Nahua peoples. In the eleventh century the Pipil built Cuscatlán as their capital. Their language was a variant of the Aztec language, Nahuatl. In 1535 the conquistador Pedro de Alvarado under the command of Hernando Cortés invaded. After defeating the Pipil, the Spanish founded San Salvador near Cuscatlán. Barely a year later the inhabitants were forced from the new settlement by a Pipil uprising. More conflict ensued and in 1528 San Salvador was moved to its present site. It became a city in 1546. El Salvador was under the captaincy general of Guatemala until independence from the Spanish in 1811. Thereafter San Salvador was the capital of the Federal Republic of Central America until it was made capital of El Salvador in 1841.

Built on a seismic fault, San Salvador’s history is marked by devastating earthquakes. Particularly destructive were those of 1854, 1873 and 1986. Destruction caused by the 12-year civil war reached its climax in 1989 when the left wing rebels captured the city from government troops. The war prompted rural migration to the capital resulting in many shantytowns. Most recent damage to the city was caused by two powerful earthquakes in Jan. and Feb. 2001.

Modern City

San Salvador is the political, economic and commercial centre of El Salvador. Industries include coffee and other food processing, textiles and cigar and cigarette production. An international airport is 44 km south of the city. Regular bus services link the capital with other Central American capitals. The Colegio de la Asunción, now the Universidad Nacional, was founded in 1841. As a legacy of the war, crime is rampant in the city.

Places of Interest

San Salvador has no surviving colonial buildings and many modern buildings are damaged. The Catedral Metropolitana is a timeline of the city’s natural disasters. First built in 1808 it was demolished by the 1873 and 1986 earthquakes and destroyed by fire in 1951. It was the site of the assassination of Archbishop Romero in 1980. The Museo Nacional displays Mayan artefacts including the Stela of Tazumal.

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© Springer Nature Limited 2019

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