At the Western Venezuelan end, there is Maracaibo capital of the Zulia State, second only to Caracas and one of the country's top oil centres. It is on the coast of the lake named after the city and discovered on August 24th 1499, by Alonso de Ojeda a sailor of Columbus' crew in his second trip to America.
The city was founded three times. First in 1529 by the German Ambrosio Alfinger, who named it Maracaibo or Villa de Maracaibo. The lack of activity in the zone made Nicolas de Federman evacuate the village in 1535 and move its population to Cabo de la Vela nearby Coro. A second attempt by Captain Alonso Pacheco turned into failure. The third and definite foundation of the city, occurs in 1574 when Captain Pedro Maldonado, under Governor Diego de Mazariego', command establishes the village with the name of Nueva Zamora de Maracaibo to honour Mazariego's place of birth, Zamora in Spain. Since its definite foundation the town began to develop as a whole.
Centro lago Mall
The name Maracaibo comes from the brave Cacique (Indian Chief) Mara a young native who valiantly resisted the Germans and died fighting them. It is said that when Mara fell, the Indians shouted "Mara cayo !!" (Mara fell !!), thus originating the city name. Other historians say that the first name of this land in Indian language was "Maara-iwo" meaning "Place where serpents abound".
Carabobo street at popular Saladillo
Paseo del Lago (Promenade by the lake)
"Capitulación" house and governor's office
Maracaibo Lake is the greatest natural feature of the Zulia State with a total extension of 13000 km2, it comes 23rd among the largest lakes in the world. The volume of traffic and freight shipped through its waters, larger than in any other Venezuelan lake, makes this fluvial way of transportation vital for the industry and commerce of the Zulia State.
The General Rafael Urdaneta Bridge over Maracaibo Lake joins the eastern Zulia region with the rest of the country. It is an engineering masterpiece built in concrete. Its construction lasted five years at a cost of Bs. 350 million (US $ 100 million at the time of construction) with a length of 8.678 m. (8.6 km. approx.) It was built in structural sections of 235 m., each one supported by six pillars. This magnificent structure bridges the opposite shores, at the narrowest part of the lake, thus saving travellers a journey that used to take two hours by ferry, to get from Maracaibo to Puerto Palmarejo on the east coast.
There are still some villages in Maracaibo Lake. Such is the case of the "palafitos" (huts built in the lake waters) of Santa Rosa, at the northern part of the city. Children with Indian features bathing in the lake waters as well as an intense canoe traffic are very common sights in this area of the city. The place, which brings memories of native ancestors, has become an exotic tourist spot where you can taste delicious typical food over the lake waters.
Palafitos at Santa Rosa
There is another similar village in Sinamaica Lagoon at the north of Zulia State. This amazing village not only offers entertainment to the tourists but also all kind of facilities to the villagers such as grocery, drug stores, other shops and common domestic services.
This so rare village, which seems to emerge from the water, with its no less rare canoe traffic, culture, tradition and customs has turned Sinamaica Lagoon in one of the highly attractive tourist and recreational spots in the Zulia region.
Until the middle of the 18th century the Marabinos' main spiritual devotions were the Saints Pedro and Juan de San Sebastian and the Virgen del Rosario de Chiquinquira. The last one had been brought to Maracaibo at the end of the 17th century by Don Juan Nieves de Andrade. The pious man built a modest hermitage out of mud and sticks and put in its interior a piece of wood with a copy of the Virgen del Rosario de Chiquinquira image worshiped in Santa Fe de Bogota at Nueva Granada (today Colombia).
As the time passed by, the painting on the wood vanished and so did the religious interest in the Virgin. The piece of wood got lost and on a morning of 1749 at dawn, an old woman who washed clothes in the lake waters, found it.
Totally unaware of its origins, took it home, where she used it to cover a clay jar. Then one day she noted the Virgin's image on the piece of wood; she hung it on a wall and turned it into an object of veneration. On October 18th, the peace and quietness of the house was upset by strange sounds and some sort of noisy movements.
When the lady looked for the cause of the disturbance, her eyes were caught by the Virgin's image on the wood, which was brighten with glittering lights. Bewildered at the wonder of the event the woman fell on her knees before the image of a tender looking Virgin with tanned skin and almond shaped eyes, who was holding in her arms a child of ravishing beauty. The Virgin's blurred image had turned into a breathtaking vision that made the old lady shout out loud "Miracle! Miracle! It's a miracle" Soon the whole neighbourhood joined in, to contemplate and marvel at the astonishing event.
The humble house became a place for praying and worshipping God's Mother and is presently a temple, home of the Patroness Saint. There, mass is celebrated and the famous wood is exhibited on the altar where you can distinctly see the splendid Virgin's image.
From the day of the miraculous appearance on the street was named "Calle del Milagro" (Miracle Street) and November 18th became a holy festivity for the Zulia people. On that day, amid joyful "gaitas" (typical Zulia music), thundering drums and cheerful bands showered with fireworks the Zulia people greet and ask the blessings of their beloved Virgin while her procession slowly moves along the city streets.
This centre premises sheltered for more than 40 years the city main Public Market. Its
construction was planned after the voracious fire of July 1st in 1927 that totally destroyed the former market, leaving Maracaibo without its main shopping centre
The government of General Vincencio Perez Soto agreed to quickly give back the city its market place. To fulfil this purpose, the authorities decided on an Iron structure, very fashionable at the time in Europe and the United States. The structure was built in England and shipped to Venezuela via Maracaibo. The assembling process lasted from 1928 to 1930. The opening day was on August 9th 1931 and it was closed down on October 7th 1973, when it was replaced by the Flea Market.
In 1973 the local government decided to reshape and transform the old market into a Popular Cultural Centre as a way to promote the artistic and cultural manifestations of the Zulia region. This experiment lasted until October 1982, when the centre was closed again. Then the sculptress Lia Bermudez, at that time Secretary of Culture, proposed the National government to recondition the building, which had been already restructured.
On July 7th 1990, nearly ten years after Bermudez' proposal, Oswaldo Alvarez Paz' government created the Lia Bermudez Fine Arts Centre and the former market premises were assigned as its head quarters. On October 16th 1990 the State Foundation for the Lia Bermudez Fine Arts Centre was created, and then reconditioning works began. On November 4th 1993 the Centre was officially opened. The Ministry of Culture Jose Antonio Abreu declared it museum and handed it in to The National Museums Network.
San Francisco Temple and Baralt's monument
On the arrival to Maracaibo of the Franciscan Order in 1615, it was built a convent to shelter the monks and also a church to honour their Patron Saint Francis. Opposite to the church, there was a quite large lot of land that bordered at the south with port decks. The proximity to the decks and the central market made the place a highly active commercial district.
On February 1882, the gentlemen: Manuel A. Linares, Alciro Villanueva, Adolfo Pardo, Julio Martinez, Julio C. Belloso, Marcial Lopez, Nectario Finol, Ricardo Villalobos, Jesús Carruyo and José Parra gathered at No. 10 on Calle Comercio to create The Baralt Society that would collect funds for building a monument to Rafael Maria Baralt a famous literatus from Zulia. The Society chose the lot opposite to the temple to build the monument that was disclosed on October 24th 1888.
As the time passed the name of Baralt Boulevard changed to Baralt Square. Due to its strong commercial activity, the place has witnessed many of the most transcendent events both social and political. For the same reason the area has become crammed with buildings of all kind, intense traffic, bus stops and hawkers causing a drastic deterioration of the zone. By the 1970 decade, considering the bad state of most downtown areas, the city government came up with a Maracaibo Urban Restoration Plan, which included Baralt Square.
The Square is presently a very active shopping centre both for locals and foreigners. Coming to Maracaibo and not visiting this place, it is like not having been to Maracaibo, since the square as well as the surrounding area keeps many pleasant memories from old Maracaibo... Here you can really get to know the "marabinos" and sense Zulia's warm spirit.
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