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Cochabamba was founded in January 1574 by Sebastián Barba de Padilla. It was originally named Villa de Oropeza in honor of the Count and Countess of Oropeza, parents of Viceroy Francisco de Toledo, who chartered and promoted its settlement.

During the height of Potosí’s silver boom, the Cochabamba Valley developed into the primary source of food for the miners in agriculturally unproductive Potosí. Thanks to its maize and wheat production, Cochabamba came to be the ‘breadbasket of Bolivia.’ As Potosí’s importance declined during the early 18th century, so did Cochabamba’s, and grain production in the Chuquisaca (Sucre) area, much closer to Potosí, was sufficient to supply the decreasing demand.

By the mid-19th century, however, the city had reassumed its position as the nation’s granary. Elite landowners in the valley grew wealthy and began investing in highland mining ventures. Before long, the Altiplano mines were attracting international capital, and the focus of Bolivian mining shifted from Potosí to southwestern Bolivia. As a result, Cochabamba thrived and its European-mestizo­ population gained a reputation for affluence and prosperity.

In 2000, the eyes of the world turned to Cochabamba as its citizens protested against rises in water rates – a struggle that, for many, highlighted a growing global problem.