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CHAPTER 7 Instruments of Colonization: The Castilian Municipio The Purposes of Municipalities The Castilian municipio constituted the main instrument of European colonization by virtue of tradition, necessity, and policy. The Spaniards could conceive of no other way to live together; a republic was a city. Ample precedent existed from the Spanish Reconquest; the valley of the Duero and Old and New Castile had been settled and secured by the founding of towns. In a vast and hostile New World, moreover, Europeans had to gather in nucleated settlements not only for physical security but for defense against loneliness. The crown understood all of these things and also that the municipality provided the only device immediately at hand to organize vast territories, to distribute land and other resources, and to reduce restless bands of conquerors to civility. The Siting and Layout of Towns As exploration revealed the immensities of the New World, Castilian monarchs evinced an intense interest in the location and physical layout of towns, recognizing , perhaps, that as in other matters America offered an opportunity to begin anew, avoiding mistakes of the European past. When Governor Pedrarias Davila founded Panama in 1519, he followed royal instructions that he had brought with him. These read in part: Let the city lots be regular from the start, so that once they are marked out the town will appear well ordered as to the place which isleft for a plaza, the site for the church and the sequence of the streets; for in places newly established, 133 134 C O L O N I Z A T I O N : THE C A S T I L I A N M UNICIPIO proper order can be given from the start, and thus they remain ordered with no extra labor or cost; otherwise order will never be introduced.1 Four years later Emperor Charles set forth more general prescriptions for siting and laying out towns in the Indies. They were to be placed in proximity to water and building materials and should have pastures and firewood nearby. Furthermore, "sites for settlement are not to be selected in very high places, because of discomfort from the winds and difficulties of service and transportation , nor in very low places, near swamps and lagoons, because they are generally unhealthy, but they are to be located in moderate altitudes, and in places where winds from north and south blow freely." Sites subject to fogs were to be avoided, and, if on a river, they should be located so that the rising sun shown first on the town and was not reflected from the water's surface into the eyes of the inhabitants. Slaughterhouses, stockyards, fishmarkets, and "other dirty and ill-smelling businesses" were to be situated outside of the town precincts, preferably across a river or on the seashore.2 Although guided in a general way by royal instructions, populators in the field made ad hoc decisions about when and where to found towns on the basis of their immediate requirements. These might include a coastal base for penetrating the interior and advanced posts en route to their objectives. They almost always included a location from which conquered territory could be dominated and that had an immediate supply of Indian labor. The Conquest, however, proceeded at such a headlong pace that founders often made mistakes in town siting. They misjudged the lay of the land, the salubrity of the climate, or the strategic value of a location or discovered that persistent native hostility rendered a site untenable. Or they could not anticipate that future communications routes might pass them by, that declines in the indigenous population would leave them short of labor, and that hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes might damage or destroy communities. In many instances, therefore, towns had to be abandoned or refounded on new sites. Also, settlers moved about restlessly from one town to another, seeking brighter prospects or evading royal justice. These circumstances gave early European colonization in the Indies a very unstable character. The Founding of Towns: The "Act of Foundation" The imperatives that guided settlement created the most typical sixteenthcentury Spanish American municipality, which may appropriately be called the "conquest town." It was founded par via de capitulation, that is, by the C O L O N I Z A T I O N : T H E C A S T I L I A N M U N I C I P I O authority granted to adelantados in their patents and...


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