Very little information exists about Durango’s pre-colonial past. It is speculated that the nomadic Nahoan Indians drifted down from the northern part of the continent (present-day United States) two millennia ago and roamed the area. Historians believe that the Zacatecas and the Tepehuanos, who established villages throughout a large territory along the Sierra Madre Occidental, occupied the area between 800 and 1400 A.D.
Another tribe, the Tarahumaras, occupied an extensive area of the Sierra Madre Occidental prior to the arrival of the Spanish. Planting corn in the region’s valleys, this indigenous group lived in nearby caves excavated from the mountainous cliffs or in stone houses. The Tarahumaras had two settlements, one near Durango and another in the region to the north now known as Chihuahua. Both groups formed small agricultural communities where they grew corn, beans, chilies and pumpkins.
The Spanish arrived in the Durango area around 1554, led by Captain Francisco Ibarra. The conquistadors encountered little resistance from the natives of the region and quickly began establishing cities. Ibarra dedicated his first years in the area to exploring new territories and founding cities, including Nueva Viscaya and Durango. In 1562, Viceroy Don Luis de Velasco named Ibarra governor of the province.
Franciscan and Jesuit priests arrived in the area around 1770, built missions and attempted to convert the indigenous groups to Christianity. Indigenous revolts–mainly among the Tepehuanos and Northern Tarahumara tribes–slowed the economic efforts of the colonizers. Throughout the colonial period, northern tribes raided the city and caused general mayhem among the Spanish colonists.
When Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla called for Mexico’s independence in 1810, several priests in Durango supported his efforts and similarly attempted to unite the population; however, local authorities loyal to Spain suppressed their efforts and curbed any pro-rebellion enthusiasm. Later in the decade, Pedro Celestino Negrete overthrew Durango’s Spanish royalists and rallied support for the country’s independence. Durango, along with other Mexican states, signed the Plan of Iguala in 1821, which freed Mexico from Spanish rule.
In 1825, Durango was officially recognized as a Mexican state and soon after drafted a constitution. Santiago Baca Ortíz became the first constitutional governor, and conservatives controlled the state for the next 25 years.
A major concern in the Durango capital during the latter part of the 19th century was persistent violence by Tarauhmaras and Tepehuanos Indians as well as Apaches who drifted into the region from the north. Because it was necessary for Durango’s local government to devote extensive time, money and manpower to defending the city, the state had little influence on or involvement in national issues.
When Porfirio Díaz became Mexico’s president in 1876, federal troops were sent to Durango to suppress the Indian uprisings. The effort helped stop attacks on Durango’s businesses and citizens and restored order to the state. In 1910, influential political and private groups in Durango banded together under Francisco Madero to oppose President Díaz, whose 30 years in office were plagued by accusations of corruption and a failure to enact social justice. Revolutionary leaders gained control of Durango in 1911. Domingo Arrieta helped the state adopt a new constitution in 1917, and peace returned to the area. After the revolution, the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party) emerged as the state’s most powerful political party.
During the 1920s, skirmishes and political and social unrest were common in Durango as in the rest of the country. By the end of the decade, however, peace had generally been restored. The Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) controlled the presidency and state government until the year 2000.
The two areas of Durango most crucial to the state’s economic success are Durango City and La Laguna. Situated near the Sierra Madre Occidental, Durango City provides wood for the state’s paper industries. La Laguna (The Lake), a region that straddles the states of Coahuila and Durango and enjoys moderate temperatures year-round, is an important agricultural area and home to a large number of Mexico’s vineyards.
In 1994, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), designed to encourage trade among the United States, Canada and Mexico by eliminating tariffs and lifting many restrictions on various categories of trade goods, went into effect. Durango capitalized on the opportunity by building maquiladoras (assembly plants), which manufacture goods for companies such companies as Wal-Mart and Honda.
By the early 21st century, Durango was home to nearly 4,000 industrial enterprises employing more than 100,000 workers. The state’s main industries are clothing, wood products, auto parts, food processing and electronics. In addition, mining, particularly of silver and gold, continues to be an important source of revenue.
Facts & Figures
- Capital: Durango
- Major Cities (population): Durango (526,659) Gómez Palacio (304,515) Ciudad Lerdo (129,191) El Salto (47,104) Santiago Papasquiaro (41,539)
- Size/Area: 47,560.4 square miles
- Population: 1,509,117 (2005 Census)
- Year of statehood: 1825
- The crown atop Durango’s coat of arms signifies that the state was once ruled by the Spanish crown. In the central framed area, two wolves can be seen jumping in front of a tree, a scene common to the folklore of Biscay Province, Spain, the home of many Spanish settlers in the area. On the original Spanish crest, the wolves refer to the aristocratic Lope family (whose name in Latin means wolf) and the tree symbolizes the oak where the Durango, Spain, town council met.
- Because Durango is well-known for its venomous scorpions (alacranes), many organizations use the arthropod as part of their name, including a soccer team, Alacranes de Durango, and a Norteño music band called Los Alacranes de Durango.
- The state, which encompasses huge evergreen forests as well as a large section of the Chihuahuan Desert, is the country’s third largest producer of silver.
- The Durango Performing Arts area is located on the north side of the capital city. Footprints of famous Hollywood stars who have made films in Mexico—such as Clark Gable, Charlton Heston, Nick Nolte, Ringo Starr and Erik del Castillo—are preserved there.
- The border between Durango, Chihuahua and Coahuila is known as Zona del Silencio (the Silence Zone) due to the area’s natural magnetic fields that prevent radio waves from passing through.
- Guadalupe Victoria, Mexico’s first president, was born in Tamazula, Durango.
Cathedral of Durango
The first church built in Durango, the Cathedral of Durango began as an adobe parish church called San Mateo. Construction began in 1685 and continued until 1787. The cathedral was consecrated on August 31, 1844.
Presidencia Municipal (Palacio Escárzaga)
Pedro Escárzaga Correl, a successful Durango City miner and trader, built the mansion called Palacio Escárzaga. The property was donated to City Hall in 1930 and the elaborate halls were then converted into city offices. In 1954, Francisco Montoya de la Cruz fashioned an interior mural depicting the city’s history.
Cultural Institute of Durango
In the late 19th century, Porfirio Díaz commissioned a hospital to be built in Durango, but its construction was interrupted first by a lack of budget then by the Mexican Revolution (1910-1917). During the Revolution, the unfinished building was put to use as a cavalry headquarters. In 1916, it was then transformed into a school before being converted into a home for foster children in 1938.
During the presidency of Maximiliano Silerio Esparza (1992-1998), the building housed the Durango Cultural Compound. In 1999, the Instituto de Cultura del Estado de Durango, including the Mexican Revolution Museum, took up residence there. One of the most visited sites of the institute, the museum features original weapons and pieces of art from the revolutionary era.