Hamlets, Villages, Towns, and Cities

[From Chapter III in People and Places in Colonial Venezuela (1976)]

The Urban Nexus and Its Records

Eighteenth-century Venezuelans, like most Spanish Americans, came into the world, grew up, married, raised children, and died within a social matrix arranged around urban or urbanized centers. In that environment, of course, an urban center can range from a few primitive houses clustered around a bit more substantial church, to the major cities composed of a multiplicity of large buildings, spacious plazas, and imposing churches. Nevertheless, whatever the distance separating the smallest parish hamlet in the Llanos from the grandest conglomerate of city parishes in Caracas, these urban centers served their parishioners in much the same way, varying only in complexity and degree. While there are many ways of demonstrating this truism, perhaps the most convincing is to notice how the inhabitants of these regions described themselves and their geography.

When they arrived in the new world and set foot on Tierra Firme, the Spanish adventurers of the sixteenth century began their entries into the continent with the goal of finding either enough Indians or enough gold to justify the establishment of an urban center. And it occurred to almost no one to imagine the exploitation of America's rich resources through some other mechanism than the Iberian town, an urban form transplanted to the Indies and endowed with new functions. Conquistadores, adelantados, governors, merchants, and clerics all looked to the town