Hernán Cortés arrived at the site of present-day Veracruz on Good Friday, April 21, 1519, and began his siege of Mexico. By 1521 he had crushed the Aztec empire.
Veracruz provided Mexico’s main gateway to the outside world for 400 years. Invaders and pirates, incoming and outgoing rulers, settlers, silver and slaves – all came and went, making Veracruz a linchpin in Mexico’s history. In 1569, English sailor Francis Drake survived a massive Spanish sea attack here. In 1683, vicious Frenchman Laurent de Gaff and his 600 men held Veracruz' 5000 inhabitants captive, killing escapees, looting, drinking and raping. Soon after, they left much richer.
Under bombardment from a French fleet in the Pastry War, General Antonio López de Santa Anna was forced to flee Veracruz in 1838, wearing nothing but his underwear. But the general managed to respond heroically, expelling the invaders. When Winfield Scott’s army attacked Veracruz during the Mexican-American War, more than 1000 Mexicans died before the city surrendered.
In 1861, Benito Juárez announced that Mexico couldn’t pay its debts to Spain, France and Britain. The British and Spanish planned only to take over Veracruz' customhouse, but retreated on seeing that Frenchman Napoleon III sought to conquer Mexico. After Napoleon III’s five-year intervention ended, Veracruz experienced revitalization. Mexico’s first railway was built between Veracruz and Mexico City in 1872, and foreign investment poured into the city.
US troops occupied Veracruz in 1914, halting a delivery of German arms to dictator Victoriano Huerta. Later in the Revolution, Veracruz was briefly the capital of the reformist Constitutionalist faction led by Venustiano Carranza.
Today, Veracruz is an important deep-water port, handling exports, manufacturing and petrochemical industries. Tourism, particularly from the domestic sector, is another large income earner.