Founded in 1565, Tucumán and its hinterland were oriented toward Salta and Bolivia during the colonial period, and only distinguished itself from the rest of the region in the culmination of the early-19th-century ferment, when it hosted the congress that declared Argentine independence in 1816. Dominated by Unitarist merchants, lawyers, soldiers and clergy, the congress accomplished little else; despite a virtual boycott by Federalist factions, it failed to agree on a constitution that would have institutionalized a constitutional monarchy in hopes of attracting European support.
Unlike other colonial cities of the northwest, Tucumán successfully reoriented its economy after independence. Modern Tucumán dates from the late 19th century and owes its importance to location; at the southern end of the frost-free zone of sugarcane production, it was close enough to Buenos Aires to take advantage of the capital’s growing market. By 1874 the railway reached the city, permitting easy transportation of sugar, and local and British capital contributed to the industry’s growth. The economic crisis at the beginning of the 21st century (and the unusually harsh winter of 2007) hit Tucumán hard, but things in general are slowly improving.