The riverbank setting of the city of Cartago was handpicked by Spanish governor Juan Vásquez de Coronado, who said that he had ‘never seen a more beautiful valley.’ Cartago was founded as Costa Rica’s first capital in 1563, and Coronado’s successors endowed the city with fine colonial architecture. However, the city was destroyed during a 1723 eruption of Volcán Irazú. Any remaining landmarks were toppled by earthquakes in 1841 and 1910.
Although the city was relegated to backwater status when the seat of government moved to San José in 1823, the surrounding area, particularly the Orosi Valley, flourished during the days of the coffee trade. Today, much of the region continues to be devoted to coffee production. Although Cartago no longer has the prestige of a national capital, it remains a vital commercial hub – not to mention the site of some of the country's most important religious monuments.