La Ciudad de Nuestra Señora de La Paz (the City of Our Lady of Peace) was founded on October 20, 1548, by a Spaniard, Captain Alonzo de Mendoza, at present-day Laja situated on the Tiwanaku road. Soon after, La Paz was shifted to its present location, the valley of the Chuquiago Marka (now called the Río Choqueyapu), which had been occupied by a community of Aymará miners.
The Spaniards didn’t waste any time in seizing the gold mines, and Captain Mendoza was installed as the new city’s first mayor. Unions between Spanish men and indigenous women eventually gave rise to a primarily mestizo population.
If the founding of La Paz had been based on anything other than gold, its position in the depths of a rugged canyon probably would have dictated an unpromising future. However, the protection this setting provided from the fierce altiplano climate and the city’s convenient location on the main trade route between Lima and Potosí – much of the Potosí silver bound for Pacific ports passed through La Paz – offered the city some hope of prosperity once the gold ran out. And by the time the railway was built, the city was well established enough to continue commanding attention.
In spite of its name, the City of Our Lady of Peace has seen a good deal of violence. Since Bolivian independence in 1825, the republic has endured more than 190 changes of leadership. An abnormally high mortality rate once accompanied high office in Bolivia. In fact, the presidential palace on the plaza is now known as the Palacio Quemado (Burned Palace), owing to its repeated gutting by fire. As recently as 1946 then-president Gualberto Villarroel was publicly hanged in Plaza Murillo.
Today La Paz is Bolivia’s de-facto capital (Sucre remains the constitutional capital).