Mazatlan History in English: Information covering pre-Columbian times to the present including
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Mazatlan History History of Mazatlan | History of Sinaloa State

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History of Mazatlán


Mazatlan before the Spanish
Conquest of Mexico

The Spanish invasion of Mexico in the 1500s portends doom for indigenous Indians near Mazatlan

European diseases decimate indigenous Indian communities near Mazatlan in 1500s Sinaloa

Spanish miners and adventurers near Mazatlan in the 1560s

Privateer Thomas Cavendish uses the port of Mazatlan as a staging point to capture the Spanish galleon Santa Ana in 1588

1600s Mazatlan

1700s Mazatlan

1800s Mazatlan

Mexican independence in 1821 spurs economic growth in Mazatlan

The marsh in Mazatlan Centro is drained and the Plaza Machado is built 1837

German immigration to Mazatlan in the mid 1800s fuels economic development

Mazatlan is occupied during the
Mexican-American War of 1847-1848

French Emperor Napoleon III intervenes in Mexico in 1861 and targets Mazatlan and silver shipments passing through the port

The French Navy blocades Mazatlan harbor for six weeks in 1862

The French Navy blocades Mazatlan and the city surrenders in November 1864

The French Colonial Army is defeated and Mazatlan is liberated in November 1866

Late 1800s Porfirian Era prosperity is good for the economy of Mazatlan

Mazatlan gets a municipal water system in the late 1890s

Mazatlan gets an electrical system in the late 1890s and the Plaza Machado glows with electric street lights

The Mercado Pino Suarez central market is built in the late 1890s

Carnaval comes to Mazatlan in the late 1890s and a Mexican tradition is born

1900s Mazatlan

Mazatlan plays an important role in Mexico's participation in WWII

The Mazatlan Hurricane of 1943 severely damages the port and the city

The 1950s see a boom in Mazatlan tourism as Hollywood discovers the port

The 21st Century Mazatlan Renaissance

Mazatlan, Sinaloa, official government website

Mazatlan Mexico history, facts, information History of Mazatlán, Sinaloa
A history of Mazatlan from pre-Colonial times to the 21st century!

Pre-Columbian | 1500s | 1600s | 1700s | 1800s | 1900s | Mazatlan Today

Pre-Columbian Aztec calendarMazatlán before the Spanish

The name Mazatlan means Place of the Deer in Nahuatl, one of the languages used in our region of Mexico before the Spanish conquest.

Before the Spanish conquered Mexico, the area around Mazatlan was inhabited by a number of different indigenous peoples native to western coastal Mexico including the Acaxee, Cáhita, Pacaxee, Tahue, Totorame and Xixime.

Historians believe that these tribes -- with the likely exception of the Cáhita -- were generally peaceful, and sustained themselves through hunting, fishing and agriculture.

The Totorames are believed to have lived in fixed locations -- including the area occupied by Modern Mazatlan -- feeding themselves primarily through fishing and agriculture, as well as collecting and trading salt with inland peoples.

Skilled craftsmen, the Totorames made decorative objects with pearls, shells and feathers, and were skilled potters.

History knows virtually nothing about Totorame spiritual practices, or political / societal organization.

Sadly -- and unlike their inland neighbors the Toltecs and Aztecs -- the Totorames left no pyramids, large scale earthworks or buildings. Totorame civilization largely vanished when the Spanish arrived with their brutality and, more importantly, their diseases, for which the indigenous people of Sinaloa had no immunity.

In tangible ways the history and spirit of Totorame culture survives.

Exquisite Totorame pottery adorned with elaborate designs indicative of an evolved and sophisticated pre-Columbian American culture can be seen at Mazatlan's Museo Arqueologico, the archaeology museum located in the Centro Historico.

These artistic expressions of the Totorame soul speak directly to contemporary viewers and are reminders that the history of Mazatlan did not begin with the arrival of the Spanish.

Cortéz and the Spanish conquest of Mexico1500s Mazatlán History

The Spanish invasion of the Americas in the 16th Century -- though foretold by vaious cultural myths -- was a massive shock to pre-Columbian cultures throughout both north-central and South America.

This was no more so than in Mexico, which was the tip-of-the-spear of the attempted Spanish colonization of several parts of the Western Hemisphere.

After Hernan Cortéz rapidly conquered the Aztecs at present-day Mexico City in 1521, his Conquistadors met little resistance as they began their outward expansion from south-central Mexico and began subjugating more of the indigenous peoples of present-day Mexico.

In the earliest years of the Spanish conquest, Indian tribes near Mazatlan most likely knew nothing of it -- 1500s communication over long distances in Mexico was tenuous at best -- but the storm that would rage through Sinaloa was brewing. In 1531, just 10 years after the conquest of Mexico City, a renegade commander, Nuno Beltran de Guzman reached the Pacific coast of Mexico with substantial forces and marched through Sinaloa with a private army, destroying and pillaging indigenous communities along the coast -- and inland when possible.

Colonial Spain smallpox epidemic among Sinaloa IndiansIndian communities near Mazatlán suffer from devastating European diseases 1500s Mazatlan History

History reveals that more destructive than the military behavior of Beltran de Guzman and his Conquistadors was the simple fact that they carried European diseases for which local populations had no immunity.

Indigenous Sinaloan communities were decimated by disease: it is estimated that over just two years -- 1535-1536 -- Totorame and Cahue populations fell by an astounding 90%. Sinaloa was left substantially depopulated -- a vacuum that Spanish warriors and later migrants were only to happy to try to fill.

Ancient history of Mazatlan MexicoHistory records that as payment to his mercenary army Beltran de Guzman divided the conquered lands among his men, awarding land as payment for military service. These land grants are the basis of the founding of numerous cities we know today, such as Culiacan, Guadalajara, and Tepic, and are the beginning of Colonial Spanish History in Western Mexico.

During these earliest years of the Spanish conquest of Sinaloa, the region currently occupied by the municipio (municipality) of Mazatlan was called Chamelta, after the name of the nearest Spanish garrison. Founded in 1531, Chamelta was soon abandoned as a result of continued Indian raids and Mazatlan's port and surrounding countryside remained free of Spaniards, if not their diseases, which traveled as a result of interaction between infected Indian communities.

But an even greater Spanish presence was on the horizon.

Mid 1500s history records the first wave of Spanish miners and adventurers near Mazatlán 1500s Mazatlan History

Conquistador Francisco de IbarraAs early as 1534 the province of Chamelta had, officially, been divided into 25 Castellanos (administrative districts) -- despite the fact that it had barely been mapped -- and there was no doubt that the Spanish were planning to migrate into what is now Sinaloa State.

Beltran de Guzman's marches through Pacific Mexico were followed by those of second-wave Spanish Conquistador Francisco Ibarra.

In 1565 -- instantly following the discovery of gold and silver in the Sierra Madre foothills surrounding Mazatlan -- Francisco Ibarra arrived in Sinaloa and founded the towns of Copala and Villa de San Sebastian (now Concordia), at the start little more than Spanish military support bases for early mining operations in Sinaloa.

Ibarra also rebuilt the garrison at Chametla, and claimed the entire region for Nueva Vizcaya. The administrative districts under his jurisdiction included the villages of San Sebastian, Copala, and Panuco and, at least nominally, the Port of Mazatlan.

In 1576, Don Hernando de Bazán, Governor and Captain General of the Spanish Province of Nueva Vizcaya, authorized Captain Martin Hernandez to occupy and settle parts of Chamelta -- including the site of Mazatlan, granting him titles to land in return.

Martin Hernandez marched to Chamelta with his family and a number of soldier / adventurers and the permanent Spanish presence in Mazatlan began.

English privateer Thomas Cavendish hides at Mazatlán in 1588 and captures the Spanish galleon Santa Ana 16th Century / 1500s Mazatlan History

In the late 1580s Spain and England were at war, and one of the tactics both sides used was to grant "charters" to "privateers" -- essentially making them state-licensed pirates -- to raid each others possessions in the New World.

Sir Thomas Cavendish Pirate / PrivateerSir Thomas Cavendish, a 27 year old English privateer, was aware of the harbor at Mazatlan -- though it had no name -- and thought he could use it as as a base of operations to operate in the waters between Sinaloa and Baja.

His goal was to capture the Manila Galleon Santa Ana when she returned from the Philippines.

Manila Galleons were large Spanish cargo vessels that sailed between ports on the western coast of New Spain to Manila in the Spanish East Indies, now the Philippines. They transported silver mined in Peru and Mexico and traded it for spices, silk, gold and other high-value merchandise that they carried back to conquistadors and colonists New Spain.

Nicknamed "The Navigator", Cavendish was attempting to duplicate the successes of Sir Francis Drake, who raided and pillaged Spanish towns and ships in the Pacific on his circumnavigation of the globe in 1578.

Spanish Galleon sant Ana Capture 1588The Santa Ana was a large ship weighing over 600 tons manned by 100 sailors and carrying passengers, including women, under the command of Captain Tomás de Alzola. For her ill-fated voyage of 1587 she lacked cannon because when she left New Spain for Manila the Spanish authorities in Acapulco appropriated her cannon to use in defense of their harbor.

Cavendish arrived in southern Sinaloa from England with three vessels: his flagship Desire, a 120 ton warship armed with 18 cannon; the 60 ton Content armed with 10 cannon and a 40 ton supply ship, Hugh Gallant.

Cavendish sailed up the Sinaloa coast in September 1587 and arrived at Mazatlan, anchoring his small fleet off Deer Island to do maintenance on the ships, replenish supplies and wait for the Santa Ana -- all the while being observed by Spanish horsemen from the villa of San Sebastian de Chametla.

Repaired and re-stocked, Cavendish made the short voyage across the Sea of Cortez to Cabo San Lucas and on Nov 4, 1587, spotted and ran down the Santa Ana after a several hour chase.

As the Desire drew alongside the Santa Ana and boarded her. Fierce hand-to-hand combat erupted and the initial attack was repulsed. The Desire then began firing her cannon and rammed the Santa Ana, with some shells piercing her hull below the waterline, and English sailors boarded the ship once more.

Captain Alzola knew that the Santa Ana was sinking and surrendered.

Spanish pieces of eight silver coinsThe haul was staggering and, because the Santa Ana was so much larger that Cavendish's boats, the English had to pick and choose what they would steal.

Estimates vary, but many historians put the loss to Spain at between 500,000 to 800,000 pesos, and all agree that it was the largest loss suffered by a galleon during the over two hundred years of Acapulco - Manila trade.

Cavendish burned the Santa Ana and left her crew and passengers in Cabo with some supplies. The survivors managed to re-float the wrecked ship and limped across the Sea of Cortez to Mazatlan and then south to Acapulco.

Cavendish continued westward and sailed across the Pacific, returning to England in 1588 a wealthy hero destined to become a permanent fixture in English maritime history.

Word of his exploits spread and pirates and privateers worldwide took note: the harbor at Mazatlan was a great place to hide if you wanted to ply your trade in the Sea of Cortez.

Mazatlan pirate ship1600s Mazatlán History
17th Century Mazatlan

"Mazatlan" was first mentioned in 1602 in military communications to the Spanish government.

But it wasn't present-day Mazatlan. The communication referenced a small village, San Juan Bautista de Mazatlan (now Villa Union), 30 miles southeast of The Pearl of The Pacific.

The modern history of Mazatlan really begins the early 1600s: in response to pirate activity the Spanish colonial government established a small garrison in present-day Mazatlan.

Thus began a multi-generational struggle between Spanish colonial naval forces and pirates that lasted through the 1600s -- and the 1700s as well.

Mining was beginning to play a role in the development of Mazatlan.

Significant silver deposits were discovered by Spanish adventurers in Sinaloa in the latter 1500s and early 1600s that were producing a substantial annual tonnage of precious metals and minerals. Mountain mining communities near Mazatlan like Concordia and Copala and the deep-digging at flatter mining locations like El Rosario were all in operation by the mid 1600s.

The size and number of mines increased substantially in 1600s, usually with Indians working as de facto slave labor in Sinaloa mines alongside black slaves from Africa.

As the tonnage of mineral treasure produced by these and other Sierra Madre mining towns near Mazatlan increased, hauling heavy loads east through the Sierra Madre Occidental mountains on crude trails or overland down the coast to Acapulco became increasingly impractical.

The Mazatlan port is one of the most spectacular natural harbors anywhere in the world. Beautifully sheltered from storms and deep enough to accommodate any 1600s ship, it is the premier natural anchorage on the west coast of Mexico.

Despite the pirate threat, the harbor at Mazatlan simply had to be utilized.

The 1600s mark when sea trade enabled the birth of Mazatlan, and sea trade enabled its increasingly important role in the history and economic development of Sinaloa State.

But despite the now-permanent Spanish presence, our city in the early 1600s was little more than a magnificent often-empty natural harbor that English, Spanish and French pirates used intermittently as a hiding place from which to attack the treasure-laden galleons that sailed Mexico's western coast.

1700s Mazatlán benefits from mining wealth and shipping spurs growth at the port 18th Century Mazatlan History

There are countless pirate stories about Mazatlan in the 1700s, but 1700s Mazatlan history wasn't just about pirates, it was about what they wanted to steal: the ever-increasing tonnage of gold and silver shipments coming from nearby mines like those at
Concordia and Copala and El Rosario.

The crucial role that sea trade played in the economic development of Mazatlan and Sinaloa can not be overstated because, much like a cruise ship, every arrival was a mini economic boom: ships must be repaired and re-stocked with food and water; sailors need to be on dry land and perhaps see a doctor better than the "doctor" on board the ship; cloths need to be replaced; men who have been at sea want female companionship.

These commercial activities, and more, require permanent populations in ports and -- being a port on the Pacific Ocean -- Mazatlan began to draw sea traffic and immigrants from Asia in addition to those from Spain and other countries in Europe.

Awareness of Mazatlan spread worldwide, and it rapidly became the most active port and immigration portal in Sinaloa. The growing town absorbed and benefited from international influences and money that reached far beyond the Spanish Empire, and that would expand the economy of Sinaloa far beyond mining.

Commerce fed local wealth, and the 1700s in Mazatlan saw other signs of advancement: The Pearl of The Pacific got its first church and first proper jail.

By the end of the 1700s the pirates were largely eradicated, but Mazatlan -- despite of over 200 years of foreign presence and its new church and jail -- was still little more than a far-flung colonial outpost and harbor surrounded by remnants of indigenous peoples whose occupation remained primarily subsistence fishing.

But eradicating the pirate threat allowed The Pearl of The Pacific to enter the new century strong, and begin to fulfill its historical destiny as Mexico's premier west coast port -- and one of the finest natural deep water ports in the world.

Olas Altas 1800s Mazatlan1800s Mazatlán
19th Century Mazatlan History

With the pirate threat substantially contained, the first decades of the 1800s in Mazatlan brought steadily increasing ship traffic and frequent arrival of passengers that hailed from very distant places.

Mazatlan had become one of the three most important ports on the Pacific coast of the Americas, the others being San Francisco and Valparaiso in Chile, with many ships arriving from Europe and the Middle East.

Much of this traffic -- an estimated sixty ships per year were arriving by the early 1800s -- was related to supplying mining operations in Sinaloa towns near Mazatlan, as well as bringing tools and materials that were used to continue to develop the city.

These long sea voyages were very dangerous: ships had to sail around Cape Horn or cross the Pacific to reach Mazatlan.

Mexican independence in 1821 opens Mazatlán to the world
19th Century / 1800s Mazatlan History

Mexico became independent from Spain in 1821 after an eleven year struggle, and growth in Mazatlan accelerated rapidly.

By 1836 Mazatlan had a population of between 4000 and 5000 non-indians, and thriving commercial relations with distant economies and peoples.

The commercial success of the port attracted the attention of of a wide range of European entrepreneurs -- primarily Germans, French and Spaniards -- who founded businesses that made them fortunes manufacturing cigarettes, cigars, matches, soaps, beer, carriages, candles and footwear.

But the attractions of the Port of Mazatlan extended far beyond Europe and fired the imaginations of businessmen as far away as Asia.

Philippino Juan Nepomuceno Machado changes Mazatlán's Centro forever by building the Plaza Machado 19th Century / 1800s Mazatlan History

In 1829 a banker from the Philippines, Juan Nepomuceno Machado, arrived on a ship that had made the trans-Pacific voyage. He rapidly founded an import / export firm that traded with with vessels coming to our port from far-flung places such as his home country the Phillipines and other countries in Asia; Chile and Peru in South America; Europe -- especially Germany -- and the United States.

History of the 1800s in Mazatlan MexicoIn 1837 Don Juan Machado -- investing both in the citys' and his own economic future -- caused the Plaza Machado (Plazuela Machado) to be built.

Once referred to as Paseo de las Naranjas (Orange Tree Walk) because of the orange trees that surrounded the space, the plaza quickly became a focal point for the community, and a place where Mazatlecos of all social classes gathered. Historically it served -- and continues to serve today -- as an icon of Mazatlan's cultural wealth.

Don Juan Machado's generosity and vision built upon an important civic infrastructure improvement that had been made in 1832.

The area that the plaza occupies -- and much of what we now consider the Centro Historico -- was once a marshy estuary fed by the ocean. But in 1832 a sea wall was constructed along Olas Altas beach which dried the area and made it possible to construct larger buildings.

German immigration fuels growth in mid-1800s Mazatlán
19th Century / 1800s Mazatlan History

In the mid-1800s the trade connections between Mazatlan and Germany enabled a tide of German immigration to The Pearl of The Pacific, with large numbers of immigrants arriving from Germany with skills and capital that she was waiting for, and who would shape Mazatlan history to this day.

Mazatlan in the 1800s

These new citizens helped develop Mazatlan into a thriving commercial seaport and as a port-of-entry for men and equipment destined for the gold and silver mines of Sinaloa that were making nearby towns like Concordia, Copala, and Cosala some of the most prosperous communities not only in Sinaloa, but in all the Americas.

The industry of these German immigrants and their children is not just a footnote in history: it is felt in many ways in The Pearl of The Pacific, from our delicious German-derived beer, Pacifico, to street and plaza names and -- of course -- Banda music, which is closely related to polka.

Mazatlán is occupied during the Mexican-American war
19th Century / 1800s Mazatlan History

The Mexican - American war of 1847 - 1848 resulted in the occupation of Mazatlan by American forces.

In early November, 1847, a United States Navy Squadron under the command of Commodore William Branford Shubrick arrived in the waters off Mazatlan and demanded that the port surrender.

The Mexican forces stationed in the city did not accept surrender, but did withdraw on the night of November 10th, ostensibly to save the city from the ravages of a fight.

On November 11, 1847, the USS Independence landed over 700 Marine bluejackets in Mazatlan under the cover of the combined naval guns of the squadron.

The city capitulated, beginning a nearly four month occupation that would last until March 6, 1848 when the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the war.

Nothing in the brief American occupation of Mazatlan -- which was relatively benign -- could prepare the citizens of Mazatlan for the nightmare of the two year French occupation of the port that was to come in the mid 1860s.

Mazatlán grows rapidly in the mid 1800s and in recognition of its prosperity becomes the capital of Sinaloa State 19th Century History

Prosperity drove development, and the amenities of a major city began to be more common in mid 1800s Mazatlan.

Late 1800s Mazatlan By 1850 Mazatlan had a hotel with a restaurant on the premises. Owned by a Chinese immigrant, Luen-Sing, it was variously referred to as the Hotel Luen-Sing or -- in a more Mexican construction -- Canton La Fonda. Whatever the name, this hotel was just the first a several that were constructed in the following decade, along with several other restaurants.

The Mazatlan Times was an English language weekly that was first published by American A. D. Jones in 1863. The publisher claimed that his newspaper was the only weekly English language publication not only in Mazatlan and Sinaloa, but anywhere in Mexico.

Icehouse Hill (Cerro Neveria) -- the promontory on your left as you travel from the Golden Zone toward Olas Altas Beach -- got its name at this time when tunnels that honeycomb the hill were used for storage of precious ice imported from San Francisco.

By the mid 1800s Mazatlan had become the largest and most rapidly growing economic and cultural center in Sinaloa, and served as the capital of Sinaloa from 1859 to 1873.

In spite of the economic and political ascendancy of Culiacan in the 20th century, many continue to consider the port to be the true cultural and spiritual capital of Sinaloa State.

The French Intervention in Mexico targets Mazatlán in the early 1860s 19th Century / 1800s Mazatlan History

Despite being the capital, mid-1800s Mazatlan history witnessed turbulent times, and the city was once again abandoned to foreign occupiers.

During France's Second Empire, under Napoleon III, an attempt was made to establish a protectorate in Mexico, which would have effectively made Mexico a French colony. This French attempt to colonize Mexico lasted from 1861 to 1867.

Variously referred to as the Maximilian Affair, the War French Intervention and the Franco-Mexican War, it was triggered by Mexican President Benito Juarez's suspension of interest payments to foreign creditors in 1861, which angered Britain, France and Spain, holders of most of Mexico's debt.

Maximillian I of MexicoNapoleon III chose as his avatar Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph, a member of the Austrian royalty who had been approached in 1859 by representatives of members of the Mexican aristocracy and Catholic church who wanted to re-establish a monarchy in Mexico.

Maximilin I as he had proclaimed himself landed in Veracruz in May 1864, was initially received by enthusiastic crowds, and began extending his military reach inland -- and westward.

Historians generally agree that Emperor Napoleon III of France decided to act for a matrix of reasons -- some geo-political, some religeous -- but probably none more compelling than the fact that he wanted the silver that was being mined in Northwest Mexico. It is estimated that 4-5 million dollars of silver passed through the port at this time, a fantastically large sum in the 1860's.

As the capital of Sinaloa State and portal to the silver mines of Sinaloa State, Mazatlan made a tempting target.

Long before Maximilian arrived in Mexico and declared himself Emperor, warships from both the French and British navies had arrived off the coast of Sinaloa and were harassing merchant ships attempting to enter and exit the Port of Mazatlan and probing the city's defenses.

Mazatlan was the capital Sinaloa State in 1862 and the most important city in northwest Mexico, but Napoleon III wasn't focused on the political or propaganda benefits capture of the city might bring, this was about money.

The silver and gold coming out of Sinaloa's mines was the prize and the port was the key to securing it: Napoleon III was willing to commit substantial resources to take Mazatlan, whatever was happening in the Mexico City Theatre of the Second Franco-Mexican War.

The French Navy probes Mazatlán and blockades the port for
six weeks in 1862
19th Century / 1800s Mazatlan History

Corvette Bayonnaise French Navy warshipIn May 1862 -- barely more that five months into the French Intervention in Mexico -- the French spardeck corvette Bayonnaise arrived off the Port of Mazatlan and blockaded the harbor.

Commanded by French Vice Admiral Jurien de la Gravière, the corvette Bayonnaise was a formidable warship. Built in 1857, the she was a powerful three-masted craft that carried 30 cannon and a crew of over 220 sailors.

French Vice Admiral Jurien de la GraviereThe blockade caused significant economic hardship throughout Sinaloa and lasted until June 18, 1862, when the Bayonnaise sailed down the Sinaloa coast, rounded the tip of the Baja Peninsula and sailed north to San Francisco, harassing ships bound for Mexico all along the way.

The Bayonnaise and Vice Admiral Jurien de la Gravière would remain a bane of merchant ships all along the Pacific coast of Mexico for most of 1862: her next port-of-call after San Francisco was Acapulco, where she began harassing commercial vessels on August 16th.

For a period, Mazatlan -- and Sinaloa State -- were spared further French attempts to disrupt trade, but that changed dramatically on March 26, 1864.

The Port of Mazatlán is blockaded by the French Navy in 1864 and
the city surrenders on November 13, 1864
19th Century / 1800s Mazatlan History

On March 26, 1864, the French flagship La Cordelière appeared off the coast of Sinaloa near Deer Island just off what is now the Golden Zone / Zona Dorada, and was soon joined by the British Pearl Class sail-steam corvette HMS Charybdis.

The arrival of the La Cordelière at Mazatlan was not a surprise: earlier in the month she was sighted prowling the waters off Nayarit State just south of Sinaloa and had captured a Mexican-flagged boat coming from San Francisco, California, that was carrying letters intended for deposed-President Benito Juárez.

The defensive strategy and fortifications at Mazatlan had been designed by Colonel Gaspar Sánchez Ochoa, a veteran Mexican army officer who had served under General Ignacio Zaragoza during the Mexican triumph at First Battle of Puebla on May 5,1862.

Colonel Sánchez Ochoa was an optimist: he thought that the French could be defeated at the waterline -- and that he knew how to do it.

On the afternoon of March 26th the La Cordelière put out a small landing craft which approached to within about 400 yards of the shoreline before drawing cannon fire from Mexican troops positioned at the beach she was heading for. The french landing craft returned small fire and the La Cordelière answered with her cannon.

The single landing craft withdrew unscathed, but there were injuries among the Mexican troops from as a result of near-misses and explosions of shells from the naval guns.

The skirmish had been a probe: the French wanted to see the Mexican artillery in action before making a serious attempt to land troops.

March 27th was quiet, with both sides preparing for a fight. Onboard the La Cordelière French Marines for a beach landing and ashore Colonel Gaspar Sánchez Ochoa and his second-in-command Captain Marcial Benítez prepared their troops, particularly the artillery, which Sanchez Ochoa hoped would sing or disable French landing craft before the reached the shore.

On March 28th the La Cordelière, still anchored off Deer Island, put out 14 landing craft that began to cautiously move toward the beach.

When the French boats were about a mile from the shore the La Cordelière began firing her naval guns at the artillery positions that had been identified two days before. Captain Marcial Benítez ordered his battery to return fire, but the six shells the Mexican gunners fired missed the La Cordelière.

Eleven of the landing boats made a dash towards the beach and managed to disembark their troops without casualties. The French marines now had a beachhead in Mazatlan, but it wouldn't last long.

With Captain Marcial Benítez continuing to direct artillery fire at the three landing craft that remained offshore, Colonel Sánchez Ochoa and his infantry troops attacked the French who who had made it to the beach.

After a fierce sharp firefight, the French re-boarded their landing craft and fled back to the La Cordelière, carrying several dead and wounded marines.

Colonel Sánchez Ochoa's troops had also taken casualties on the 28th: one dead and three wounded.

The 29th and 30th were quiet, with the French apparently trying to decide whether to attempt another landing. They decided not -- they would punish the Mexicans from afar.

At 2:00 pm on March 31, 1864, the La Cordelière turned broadside toward Mazatlan and opened up with all of its cannon on the side of the ship facing the city. The firing was largely indiscriminate and aimed less at the Mexican artillery positions than at the town in general.

By sunset the La Cordelière had fired between 300 and 400 shells -- the historical record is unclear -- while the Mexican artillery had fired 158 times.

Colonel Gaspar Sánchez Ochoa and his men had won the battle: the French would not attempt another beach landing. But the war -- and the suffering of the populace of Mazatlán -- was just beginning.

What followed the battles of March 26 to March 31 was a more than seven month naval blockade of the port by the La Cordelière, the hardships of which caused substantial dissent between Republican and Imperial factions within the population and caused Mazatlán to formally surrender to the French on November 13, 1864.

The French colonial intervention in Mexico is defeated and Mazatlán is liberated in 1866 19th Century / 1800s Mazatlan History

Execution of Emperor Maximilian IOn November 13, 1866, two years to the day after French occupation, General Ramon Corona expelled Maximilian's French Imperial Army from Mazatlan, and colonial rule in The Pearl of The Pacific was ended -- as was the entire French colonial adventure in Mexico the following year when Maximilian I was captured and executed.

In describing the French adventure American president Andrew Johnson invoked the Monroe Doctrine which said that efforts by European governments to interfere in the Americas would be viewed by the United States as acts of aggression requiring United States intervention.

Olas Altas Mazatlan in 1870But just two years later, in June of 1868, history clearly records that Britain intervened in Mazatlan -- without United States reaction.

The HMS Chanticleer, a Camelion class sloop armed with 17 cannon under the command of Captain William H. Bridges, blockaded the Mazatlan port and threatened to shell the city.

History records that the captain apparently resented local customs authorities having seized a small amount of gold from the paymaster of his ship.

Many reminders of the two years of French colonial rule in Mazatlan can be found in the history and architecture of many buildings in the Centro Historico.

Mazatlán prospers in the late 1800s as the Porfirian Era drives economic development throughout Sinaloa State and all of Mexico 19th Century History

Gold Rush poster in Mazatlan MexicoDespite the trauma of occupation, late 1800s Mazatlan history saw stability and increasing prosperity.

During the California Gold Rush of the late 1800s prospectors from the United States sailed from east coast ports to Mexican ports in the Gulf of Mexico, notably Veracruz.

The aspiring miners then traveled overland across Mexico to Mazatlan -- a journey that could take months -- where they would embark for San Francisco and the supposedly limitless fields of gold in California.

History clearly records that most, of course, failed to realize their golden California dream, but every miner that passed through Mazatlan supported our economy, and the growing strength of the municipality.

History of El Faro lighthouse in Mazatlan MexicoIn 1879 Mazatlan's unique and majestic lighthouse -- El Faro -- first cast its glorious light westward over the Pacific ocean.

To this day the tallest lighthouse in the Americas, El Faro's original oil lamp was fabricated in Paris and was focused with mirrors and a Fresnel lens. Since the light did not move it was often mistaken for a star.

In 1905 the original El Faro lighthouse lamp was replaced by a revolving lamp. Today El Faros' 1000 watt bulb can be seen for 30 nautical miles and is still serving as an important navigational tool even in the era of GPS!

Angela Peralta in Mazatlan MexicoIn 1883 Angela Peralta, a Mexican opera diva, died of yellow fever in The Pearl of The Pacific shortly after her arrival in the port. History -- based on local legend -- has it she sang one last aria from the balcony of the Hotel Iturbide, overlooking Plaza Machado.

Her memory is held dear by Mazatlecos to this day, and the restored Teatro Ángela Peralta immediately beside the Plaza Machado keeps the history of her fatal visit and her memory alive -- as well as providing modern-day Mazatlan with a truly world-class performance venue.

Late 1800s and early 1900s Mazatlan history saw increasing prosperity in the port, and many advanced civic amenities like electrification, street lights, city water systems and modern large-scale markets usually associated with larger or European cities began to emerge.

Early street trolly in Mazatlan MexicoFerrocarril Urbano de Mazatlan built one of Mexico's first horse-drawn street railways in 1876, and had nearly 4 miles of urban railway track by 1905. The system was even making an early move toward mechanization with small steam locomotives replacing some of its mules in 1908. Unfortunately, the system was shut down in 1913, a victim of the Mexican Revolution.

But even occasional false-starts like Ferrocarril Urbano de Mazatlan do not overshadow the enormously rapid pace of development in Mazatlan in the late 1800s including city water and electricity, the construction of Mercado Pino Suarez -- a state-of-the-art massive ironwork market -- and, of course, Carnival...

The Inauguration of the Mazatlán City Water System Late 1800s Historical Milestone

Nothing is more important to the development of a city than a reliable source of potable water and, for residents in the mid and latter 1800s, potable water supply in Mazatlan was often a problem.

The simplest explaination is really Urban Planning 101 -- rapid population growth had far outstripped supply.

Mazatlan is not really blessed with easy-to-access sources of fresh water.

Traditionally, early settlers in Mazatlan harvested rain water -- which is fairly plentiful with over 30 inches annual rainfall -- and kept it in cisterns for the long periods of the year where there is little or no rain. By the 1860's there were supposedly over 125 private cisterns with a combined capacity of over 50,000 liters.

It simply wasn't enough and, as the population of Mazatlan grew, water hauling -- bringing water from local lagoons and water holes -- became another (highly innefficient) part of the water supply mix.

At least the rain water was probably pretty clean, even after being stored in a cistern.

The hauled water, on the other hand, was almost universally from brackish sources, smelly and often unhealthy. The delivery mechanism was donkeys with five liter clay jugs being led through neighborhoods.

There were two aborted plans in the 1800s designed to improve the water supply in Mazatlan. The first, in 1863, involved a piped water network -- and went nowhere. The second, in 1881, involved an interesting scheme that would have placed water facilities on Stone Island. That plan went nowhere as well.

In 1887 - 1888 a solution arrived in the form of an enterprise jointly owned by some of the wealthiest merchants in Mazatlan. Compañía Abastecedora de Agua de Mazatlán was formed with the purpose of becoming the monopoly privately owned water supplier to the city, and this group had done its homework -- including getting import permits for the rather large list of materials that needed to be imported, largely from the United States.

With an aquifer identified, some logistical and financial support from the city and a potentially extremely lucrative contract signed they began digging. While the job didn't get done in the twenty month projected, on May 4, 1890 Mazatlan had city water.

Electricity Comes to Mazatlán Late 1800s Historical Milestone

Mazatlan Mexico electricityIt is easy for modern people to forget that many of the things we take for granted -- like grid electricity -- are really rather recent inventions.

1881 marks the year that streetlights and city electrical grids were born -- in Surrey, England -- but most humans, even urban humans, lived entirely without electricity in the late 1800s and even in the 1900s.

Mazatlan was an early adopter of urban electrical streetlights and electrical grids -- the first such system was switched on in 1896.

The financial origins of that system may seem ironic to a modern reader -- quite unlike today, in late 1800s Mazatlan electricity was far less expensive that the natural gas that fueled gas street lamps!

For those who like continuity, it is comforting to know that Jesús Escovar, the owner of Compañía de Gas Hidrogeno -- the company that had supplied the gas lamps since the mid 1868 -- got the contract for electrification.

Some of the earliest areas to get the new electric street lights were Plaza Machado, Plazuela Hidalgo and stretches of the Malecon. Wires from this newborn grid were rapidly run to wealthy families homes -- which many considered a blessing because gas and oil lamps and candles were substantial fire hazards.

Almost immediately -- and not unlike other cities of the time -- a second private Mazatlan electrical company was founded and the competition was fierce for several years, including acts of sabotage and vandalism by both company workers and hired muscle.

The competition was ended when the companies merged in 1906 under the ownership of Arthur de Cima León -- a very prominent entrepreneur who owned the ice company, the telephone company, the trolly company and was the founder of the upstart electrical company.

Electricity was successfully provided in Mazatlan by this private electrical company until 1937 when the electrical grid of Mexico was nationalized and became the Comision Federal de Electricidad (CFE) we know and love today.

Construction of a modern central market in Mazatlán Late 1800s Historical Milestone

History records the rapid growth of the population of Mazatlan in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and a big city needs a big grocery store!

Mercado Pino Suarez Circa 1900Mercado Pino Suarez was the solution.

Prior to the construction of the magnificent market you see today there were a number of largely open-air markets, notably in Plaza Zaragoza and Plaza de La Republica.

In the 1890s it was decided that, for both aesthetic and sanitary reasons, Mazatlan needed a modern central market, and the location between Benito Juarez and Aquiles Serdan was chosen.

The history of Mexico from the 1880s through the first decade of the 20th century is often referred to as the "Porfirian Era" after Porfiro Diaz, a soldier who was President of Mexico three times -- in total nearly three decades -- including the period from 1884 until his overthrow in 1911.

Porfiro Diaz was very enamored of many things French -- he chose France when he was exiled and died there in 1915 -- and the design of the Mercado Pino Suarez is heavily influenced by the late 19th century French ironwork aesthetic that was used in the Eiffel Tower and other important public structures in France during that period.

The structure was cast and assembled by Loubet y Compañía -- the largest foundry in Sinaloa -- and rapidly became known as the "Iron Palace" by locals, despite being officially named Mercado Romero Rubio.

Outside the Mercado Central Market Mazatlan MexicoThere are numerous remarkable statistics about the amount of iron that went into the Pino Suarez Market (estimated to be over 300,000 pounds) but simply consider this: each of the twenty-nine single-casting columns that the roof rests on are over thirty feet tall!

In 1915 the market was re-named Mercado José María Pino Suárez in honor of the Vice President of Mexico who was killed in 1913 during the darkest days of the Mexican Revolution.

Now home to over 250 tenants and employing nearly 1000, the Mercado Pino Suarez is a vibrant part of the Mazatlan shopping scene even in the era of supermarkets and big-box malls. LEARN MORE

The Birth of Carnaval in Mazatlán Late 1800s Historical Milestone

The very end of the 1800s -- 1898 to be exact -- marks when Mazatlan officially embraced the Mardi Gras tradition of Carnival, and there has been no turning back from this massive annual public party!

Though Carnaval was noted in Mazatlan as early as 1848 -- it was mentioned in the Mazatlan newspaper La Lechuza -- it wasn’t until 50 years later than the event took its present form as a seven-day multi-event blow-out complete with parades, floats, social events and an official King and Queen.

History notes that the early Mazatlan Carnivals -- pre 1898 -- were informal and often somewhat vulgar, with women throwing flour and hollow eggshells (cascarones) filled with glitter, and men responding by tossing ashes and dyes at the women.

Early 1900s Mazatlan Carnival QueensBut in 1898 civic leaders headed by Dr. Martiniano Carvajal and a committee with an international flavor -- it supposedly included an Irishman, a German, a Spaniard and an Italian -- organized a parade made up of carriages and bicycles "to eradicate the immoral flour and replace it with the pure and more restrained confetti."

The modern Mazatlan Carnival may not involve tossing flour, but it is hardly restrained. Mardi Gras in Mazatlan is one of the biggest and best bashes anywhere in the Americas that sees thousands of costumed revellers thronging the Malecon and beaches.

Download a free Mazatlan 2014 Carnival ScheduleDownload a free 2015 Mazatlan Carnaval Events Schedule!

Each evening the Malecon at Olas Altas Beach becomes the perfect stage for this singing and dancing Bacchanalia, with outdoor concerts, sound and light shows and beer for everyone!

1900s Mazatlán History | 20th Century Mazatlán

20th Century Mazatlan history begins with a period of prosperity, and the founding of Cerveceria del Pacifico is another example of Mazatlan's early 20th century growth.

Pacifico brewry Mazatlan early 1900sIn March of 1900 Jorge Claussen, German Evers, and Emilio Philipi created a partnership that became the Cerveceria del Pacifico brewery in Mazatlan. Their first product was Cerveza Pacifico Clara, a pilsner-style beer.

The beer became instantly popular in The Pearl of The Pacific, then Sinaloa State, and rapidly throughout Mexico.

Now known world wide as one of the finest Pilsners, Pacifico's brand is intimately associated with Mazatlan Mexico. Cerveceria del Pacifico -- now a part of Grupo Modelo -- remains a huge and interesting part of our business scene, and tours of the Pacifico Brewery and their museum can be arranged by telephoning 669 982 7900, extention 1642.

Video of the Pacifico Brewery in Mazatlan

Banda in Mazatlan Mexico1900s Mazatlan history also saw the emergence of Tambora music in The Pearl of The Pacific. Based upon traditional German drums imported by German migrants to Mazatlan, a tambora resembles a bass drum, and is mainly used today in Banda Sinaloense and Pasito Duranguense bands.

The Tambora is played with a felt mallet. With its double headed membranophone, large diameter, and fixed cymbal, the Tambora is highly distinctive and unique to Mexican music. Tambora music, the traditional oompah band music of northern Mexico, is heard throughout The Pearl of The Pacific, especially at Carnaval and other holidays.

Video of early 20th Century Mazatlan

Porfirio Diaz President of MexicoBut despite local economic successes, 20th century history brought turbulent times to Mazatlan -- and all of Mexico. The Mexican revolution stands as the watershed moment in Mexican history, and the true birth pain of the modern Mexican state.

The end of the Porfirio Diaz's rule in 1911 marked the beginning of the revolution that created modern Mexico.

Mexican Revolution soldiers in MazatlanThe Mexican revolution was bloody and prolonged -- lasting over six years -- and The Pearl of The Pacific did not escape the widespread destruction that visited all of Mexico.

Mexico -- pre-occupied with its revolution -- was neutral in WWI, but the progress of military technology did not spare our port.

American destroyer in Mazatlan in WWIIn the early years of WWI Mazatlan became the second city in the world -- after Tripoli, Libya -- to suffer aerial bombardment, but the incident was unrelated to the broader war, and entirely about the the progress of the Mexican revolution.

History records that General Álvaro Obregón -- who later became President of Mexico -- was intent on taking The Pearl of The Pacific as he marched his army south toward Mexico, and ordered a bi-plane to drop a leather wrapped bomb made of dynamite and nails on Cerro de la Neveria (Icebox Hill) adjacent to downtown Mazatlan. The crude bomb landed off target, killing two and wounding several others.

Mazatlan Mexico in the early 20th centuryAfter order was restored at the end of the Mexican Revolution, 1920s Mazatlan experienced a decade of quiet prosperity and growth.

But the Great Depression put and end to that.

No economy anywhere in the world -- especially an economy as dependent on world economic health and free international trade as is that of a port -- entirely escaped the ravages of the Great Depression.

But despite the massive global economic shock of the Great Depression, Mazatlan continued to grow, its importance as Mexicos' largest Pacific coast port and economic center of Sinaloa State continuing to underpin its economy.

WWII Mazatlán History | Mexico in World War Two

Very few people would include Mexico in a list of Allies in World War II. Although both Germany and Japan made overtures to Mexico and did purchase some oil in 1939 from the newly nationalized oil company -- now Pemex -- by 1940 it was obvious that Mexico's interests lay with the United States and the Allies.

Mazatlan, Sinaloa, Mexico during WWII1940-41 witnessed elections in both the United States and Mexico, with Franklin Roosevelt being re-elected to a third term in the United States, and Avila Camacho elected to the Mexican presidency.

History records the bitter disputes surrounding the Camacho election, with the right-wing Spanish fascist connected candidate Juan Andreu Almazan going so far as to have supporters in the United States obtain weapons intended for use in an armed rebellion. Roosevelts' early and strong support for Camacho -- along with his use of the F.B.I and United States military intelligence to assist the Mexican Army in the struggle against the pro-Almazan forces -- cemented ties between the two leaders, and paved the way for greater cooperation as WWII unfolded.

German WWII submarine

The breaking point came in May, 1942, when the Mexican oil tanker Potrero del Llano was torpedoed by the German submarine U-564 off Miami, killing 14 members of its crew.

Just days later -- and after the attack on a second ship, the Faja de Oro, which was torpedoed and sunk while on a voyage from Philadelphia to Tampico by the German submarine U-106 -- Mexico declared war on Germany and the Axis powers.

The denial of Mexico -- and Mazatlan -- as a safe harbor for Nazi submarines was of historical importance to the Allies war efforts.

Mexico also helped the Allies in other ways. Mexican oil helped fuel United States war industries, and other Mexican raw materials were vital to the United States warfighting efforts in WWII. With many millions of American men in the United States armed forces and thousands of American women working in factories, Mexican labor -- mostly in the form of agricultural workers -- was central to sustaining and increasing agricultural production in the United States during WWII.

The 1943 Mazatlan hurricane seroiusly damages the infrastructure of the port, the airport and the city

Mazatlan Mexico 1943 hurricane newspaper headlineThe war years also brought a true natural disaster of historical proportions to Mazatlan.

The historic 1943 Mazatlan hurricane was a powerful tropical cyclone that struck the Pacific coast of Mexico in October 1943. The hurricane made landfall just south of the Centro Historico on October 9 and had sustained winds of over 130 mph. At least a Category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale, the 1943 Mazatlan hurricane was the strongest hurricane in The Pearl of The Pacific's recorded history.

It is one of only two truly major hurricanes to strike in the entire recorded history of Mazatlan, the other being the equally devastating Hurricane Olivia in 1975.

Mazatlan Mexico in the 1940sThe 1943 Mazatlan hurricane destroyed two small towns outside The Pearl of The Pacific, and also severely damaged Mazatlan's port. Though the storm was reported as striking without warning, most residents of Mazatlan were able to reach the safety of higher ground.

History records that the hurricane destroyed about half of the buildings in Mazatlan, and near the ocean the combination of strong waves, high winds, and rainfall left many hotels and houses heavily damaged, as well as destroying much public infrastructure.

The storm severely damaged Mazatlan's water system, leaving many areas without potable water or sewage systems. The 1943 hurricane severely impacted transportation and communication infrastructures, with the airport sustaining damage to numerous buildings including the radio tower.

For at least eighteen hours the only communication between Mazatlan and the rest of Mexico -- and the world -- was through a battery powered radio in an airliner that had been forced down at the airport.

Post-WWII Mazatlán economic boom and the birth of a northwest Mexico tourist destination in southern Sinaloa

Mazatlan beach in the 1940sPost-WWII Mazatlan became a favorite deep sea sport fishing destination for Hollywood notables such as John Wayne, John Huston, and Gary Cooper.

Partly as a result of the media exposure that came along with these these famous visitors, hotels along Olas Altas Beach and the Malecon did well during the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, supported by sport fishing tourism, as well as many other tourists both from both outside and inside Mexico who had discovered Mazatlan's charms.

Olas Altas in the 1940sThis solid growth of tourism funded many civic improvements, notably significant work on Mazatlan's magnificent Malecon. These Malecon improvements included the complete paving of both the street and promenade, and re-enforcement of the sea wall. The mid-20th Century Mazatlan history also saw the extension of city services -- water and electricty -- further into previously unserved neighborhoods.

Mazatlan Mexico in the 1940sTwo of our classic hotels -- the Posada Freeman and the La Siesta -- date from this period.

The Freeman was constructed in 1946 and the La Siesta in 1954 -- and both remain some of the best choices a tourist can make when choosing lodging in Mazatlan!

The steady growth of tourism in the 1950s fueled continued infrastructure improvements and brought visitors from increasingly far-flung places, many of whom chose to purchase real estate and become part or full-time residents.

Video of Mazatlan in 1962

The 21st Century Mazatlán Renaissance

Satellite view of Mazatlan MexicoLocated on Mexico's Pacific coast -- just across from the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula -- Mazatlan is today the second largest city in the state of Sinaloa.

The Pearl of The Pacific has a population of over 400,000 -- over 500,000 including inhabitants of the surrounding municipality which has a land area of nearly 1200 square miles and includes outlying communities such as Villa Union, La Noria, El Quelite, El Habal and many other small Sinaloan towns and villages.

At just 23° north, Mazatlan is the same latitude as Kauai in the Hawaiian Islands, and is favored with over 300 days over 80f per year. Our Pearl Of The Pacific is known world wide to deep sea sport fishermen, who refer to Mazatlan as the Billfish Capital of the World.

Zoomable slippy map of Mazatlan, Sinaloa, Mexico, from Google Maps

Nestled on the western edge of the Sierra Madre mountains on a spectacular peninsula that extends into the Pacific Ocean, Mazatlan is one of the Mexico's premier resort destinations. Mazatlan is served by an international airport -- General Rafael Buelna Internacional -- with daily flights to many countries including the United States and Canada and annual traffic of over 750,000 passengers.

Video time-lapse of Carnival on the Malecon in 2012! Very Cool!

Although Mazatlan is one of Mexico's most popular vacation destinations, it has another identity as the largest commercial port in Mexico, with a bustling economy independent of tourism; expatriate real estate investment; or American and Canadian retirees.

Mazatlan is the largest port between Long Beach and the Panama Canal, and is home to Latin America's biggest fleet of commercial shrimp vessels -- over 800 boats. The staggering tonnage of shrimp are processed in The Pearl of The Pacific each year makes Mazatlan the shrimp capital of Mexico -- and the world.

Aerial view of the Port of Mazatlan MexicoBecause of a history of hundreds of years of focus on industry and commerce, Mazatlan came late to the discovery that its beaches represented an asset, and became a Mexican resort destination almost as an afterthought.

Tourism -- in any larger scale form -- only came to Mazatlan in the mid-1950s when an American named Ulysses S. George built a hotel a few miles north of town, just beyond Playa Camaron. The owners of the Hotel Playa Mazatlan started publicizing their resort and more and more tourists began to arrive. Most of the tourist facilities, the hotels and restaurants, grew up around the original development -- now in the heart of the Golden Zone - Zona Dorada -- and to the north of it, now extending through Nuevo Mazatlan.

An important city long before it became a resort, Mazatlan is less touristy than any simillar market along Mexico's coasts. Places like Puerto Vallarta, Los Cabos, Acapulco and Cancun were largely created as resort developments, and there is a single-dimensional character to those communities that is a pale shadow of the rich complexity and sophistication of modern day Mazatlan Mexico with its long and richly complex history.

Mazatlan Centro Historico at nightAs the 21st Century begins, Mazatlan's Centro Historico has been rediscovered, spuring a renaissance of restoration, real estate investment, and entrepreneurial efforts.

The grand homes and landmark Centro Historico commercial buildings that had fallen into disrepair or ruin have been restored to their historic glory and now house young families, retirees, and unique boutique Mazatlan businesses such as restaurants, cafés and art galleries.

Our city has nearly 500 buildings that have been designated as national historic landmarks. Walking through Mazatlan -- especially the Centro Historico -- one can't help but notice the distinct style (classical elements with climate-related adaptations, such as more robust drain spouts) with which the majority of these Mazatlan Centro Historico buildings were constructed.

Mazatlan Mexico ChurchThe list of architects, builders and craftsmen who created the buildings of the Centro Historico is a history of the rich tapestry of immigrants to The Pearl of The Pacific.

These international influences include German, Spanish, Italian and of course Mexican artisans -- but the similarities in architectural solutions are striking, and representative of the birth of a genuine Mazatlan Classical Tropical Style that continues to please both residents and visitors.

Download free Mazatlan Centro Historico walking tour map and directionsDownload a free self-guided Centro Historico Walking Tour map!

Modern Mazatlan has recognized the value of the its history.

The renaissance of Mazatlan's Centro Historico was recognized by the Mexican national government in 2003, when the Centro Historico was designated a National Heritage District -- a designation that assures that the underlying historical qualities of these unique cultural resources will be respected even as re-development accelerates.

And -- if history is any guide -- there is every reason to believe that Mazatlan will continue to grow long into the future.

In late 2013 Mazatlan realized a goal that had only been a dream for nearly 400 years -- an efficient road connecting Mazatlan with Durango and points northeast.

The massive construction project that re-built Mexico Federal Highway 40 is a watershed in Mazatlan history, and clearly destined to bring tourists, commerce and economic opportunity to Mazatlan for generations to come.

History of Mexican Federal Highway 40 and the new
Highway 40D, pathway to Durango and beyond!

Federal Highway 40 HistoryMexican Federal Highway 40 -- often referred to as the Inter-oceanic Highway (Carretera Interoceanica) -- spans the middle of northern Mexico, and connects the Gulf of Mexico with the Pacific coast.

Federal Highway 40 begins at Reynosa, Tamaulipas State -- just south of McAllen, located at the southern tip of Texas near Brownsville -- and ends in Villa Union, Sinaloa, just southeast of Mazatlan. At that point it connects to Mexican Federal Highway 15, the highway running northwest to southeast along the Pacific coast of Mexico.

Federal Highway 40 connects the largest cities in north-central Mexico including Monterrey, Saltillo, Torreón and Durango as it winds its way southwest to its intersection with Highway 15 and the Port of Mazatlan.

Mexican Federal Highway 40 Map

The general idea that Mexico needed an East - West roadway in the Northern part of the country existed since Colonial times. Mexican Federal Highway 40 was constructed in the 1940s, and fulfilled that dream.

A wonder of roadway engineering for the time, the old Mexico Highway 40 provided two paved lanes that stitched together existing roads with new sections -- many segments of which required substantial road-engineering skills to construct.

Federal Highway 40 created a continuous paved path across north - central Mexico, and the segment connecting Sinaloa State with Durango State was the first reliable and widely used road between Mazatlan and Durango.

For the first time in Mexican history, travel between the Gulf Coast and the Pacific was possible for normal people in timeframes less than those measured in weeks!

But the history of ground transport was moving quickly in the mid-20th Century, and booming late 50's and early 60's North America needed more than 1940s roads could provide. Two lanes -- especially ones with lots of curves! -- didn't begin to address the needs of increasingly auto and truck-dependent economies.

This problem was particularly acute between Durango and Mazatlan.

Beyond being only two lanes wide at best, Federal Highway 40 between Mazatlan and Durango was an over 180 mile long labyrinth of switchback turns, very low average speeds -- in sections as low as 15 miles per hour -- and effective impassability for many types of larger commercial vehicles.

If this sounds primitive, remember that historically things were not that much different in the United States -- the interstate road system in the USA was only a plan when announced in 1956 as a response to the same capacity issues, with many communities waiting decades to be connected to the emerging interstate highway system.

The re-building of Mexican Highway 40 has similarly taken decades, but true restricted access multi-lane segments were completed long ago between Durango, Monterrey and Reynosa -- Mexican restricted access highways that enabled the more efficient northbound flow of products and people.

However, the dream had always been to link the Gulf Coast to the Pacific and thereby enable efficient trans-continental traffic that would benefit the economies of all of the communities along its route.

The Sierra Madre Occidental mountains that separate Durango from Mazatlan posed unique challenges, and our segment of the highway was the last major part of the route to be re-built.

Not only are the Sierra Madre some of the higher mountains in Mexico, but they are very steep, creating topography that is unusually jagged and that requires tremendous bridge-building and tunneling skills to even begin to plan for an efficient restricted access roadway design that traverses a direct route.

In addition to the general engineering challenges posed by this spectacularly rugged landscape, the Baluarte River -- the border between Durango and Sinaloa States -- slices a deep gorge through the middle of any efficient proposed route, and any direct Mazatlan - Durango highway would require unprecedented engineering solutions to span it.

Federal Highway 40D HistoryThe new Mexican Federal Highway 40D -- a 4-lane restricted access toll road -- has met these challenges along the highway from Mazatlan to Durango with an astounding 115 bridges, eight of which are over 900 feet high, and 63 tunnels!

No feat of engineering along the new Mazatlan - Durango highway surpasses that of the Baluarte Bridge. With a vertical clearance of nearly 1,300 feet from the riverbed, this over 3,600 foot long suspension bridge is the highest in the world, and one of the longest as well.

The cost of the Baluarte Bridge alone -- estimated at over 150 million dollars over a four year construction schedule -- is indicative of the scale of the entire 40D construction project, which totaled over 2.2 billion dollars.

With planning and construction work spanning nearly two decades and three Mexican presidencies, the re-engineering of the Mazatlan - Durango highway is arguably the single largest public works project ever completed in Mexico.

Helicopter video of the Baluarte Bridge on the Mazatlan - Durango Mexican Federal Highway 40D

The plan for re-building the Mazatlan - Durango corridor was born nearly two decades ago in the Mexico City offices of the Secretary of Communications and Transportation (SCT), the agency which is responsible for Federal highways throughout Mexico.

The sheer materials requirements were enormous -- the new sections and upgrades to existing roadbed required 130,000 tons of steel and enough concrete to build 20 Olympic stadiums. The logistic challenges of transporting this amount of material in such rugged terrain was as daunting as the size of the loads themselves.

The human logistics of the project at times resembled the feats of ancient Egyptian pyramid building: at one point there were 1,200 workers living in a temporary construction community built in the shadow of the emerging Baluarte Bridge.

Baluarte Bridge under construction

The outcome of these efforts completely transforms the topography of travel between Mazatlan to Durango and points east -- the mileage has been reduced from over 180 miles to 140 miles, and the expected drive time anywhere from 6-8 hours (or more...) to well under 3 hours.

Mazatlan actually receives double benefit from the opening of the new Mazatlan - Durango highway.

Not only has it become better connected to markets in the Durango / Torreon / Saltillo / Monterey / Reynosa - Brownsville corridor but -- because 40D intersects with other Federal highways at Durango -- it is now linked to the Durango / Zacatecas / San Luis Potosi / Tampico corridor, and the Port of Tampico on the Gulf Coast.

North - Central Mexico Federal Highway Map

Facts and figures about Mazatlán, Sinaloa, Mexico

Mazatlan is the capital of the municipality (municipio) of Mazatlan.

The Municipality of Mazatlan has an area of just under 1,185 square miles.

The population of the City of Mazatlan is about 370,000.

The population of the Municipality of Mazatlan is slightly under 450,000.

The City of Mazatlan is the second most populous city in Sinaloa, only exceeded by Culiacan, the capital.

Mazatlan has nine sister cities: Ensenada (Baja California, Mexico); Grande Prairie (Alberta, Canada); Hamm (North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany); Puntarenas (Costa Rica); San Ysidro (California, United States); Santa Monica (California, United States); Seattle (Washington, United States); Tijuana (Baja California, Mexico) and Tucson (Arizona, United States).

Mazatlan is in the Mountain time zone (UTC-7), and observes Daylight Savings Time in the Summer.

The telephone area code for Mazatlan is 669.

The main postal code for Mazatlan is 82000, followed by four-digit sub codes.

The official website of the city of Mazatlan is

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