Veracruz (Spanish pronunciation: ( listen)), officially known as Heroica Veracruz, is a major port city and municipality on the Gulf of Mexico in the Mexican state of Veracruz. The city is located along the coast in the central part of the state, 90 km (56 mi) southeast of the state capital Xalapa along Federal Highway 140.
It is the state's most populous city, with a population that is greater than the municipality's population, as part of the city of Veracruz extends into the neighboring Boca del Río Municipality. At the 2010 census, the city had 554,830 inhabitants, 428,323 in Veracruz Municipality and 126,507 in Boca del Río Municipality. Developed during Spanish colonization, Veracruz has been Mexico’s oldest, largest, and historically most significant port.
When the Spanish explorer Hernán Cortés arrived in Mexico on April 22, 1519, he founded a city here, which he named Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz, referring to the area’s gold and dedicated to the "True Cross", because he landed on the Christian holy day of Good Friday, the day of the Crucifixion. It was the first Spanish settlement on the mainland of the Americas to receive a coat-of-arms. During the colonial period, this city had the largest mercantile class and was at times wealthier than the capital of Mexico City. Its wealth attracted the raids of 17th-century pirates, against which fortifications such as Fort San Juan de Ulúa were built. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Veracruz was invaded on different occasions by France and the United States; during the 1914 Tampico Affair, US troops occupied the city for seven months. For much of the 20th century, the production of petroleum was most important for the state's economy but, in the latter 20th century and into the 21st, the port has re-emerged as the main economic engine. It has become the principal port for most of Mexico’s imports and exports, especially for the automotive industry.
Veracruz has a blend of cultures, mostly indigenous, ethnic Spanish and Afro-Cuban. The influence of these three is best seen in the food and music of the area, which has strong Hispanic, Caribbean and African influences.
The name Veracruz (originally Vera Cruz), derives from the Latin Vera Crux (True Cross). Having established the settlement of Villa Rica (Rich Village) on Good Friday, April 22, 1519, Cortés dedicated the place to the True Cross as an offering.
The Spanish captain Juan de Grijalva, along with Bernal Díaz del Castillo, first arrived in 1518 at the island later known as San Juan de Ulúa. The Spanish gave it that name because they landed on the Christian feast of John the Baptist (June 24), and in honor of the captain. De Ulúa is derived from the local name for the Aztecs, coluha or acolhua. According to tradition, when the Spanish arrived, they found two young men who had been sacrificed. When they asked the locals what had happened, they said the Aztecs had ordered the sacrifice. The word for Aztec evolved into Ulúa.
Because the first expedition detected the presence of gold in the region, a second expedition under the command of Hernán Cortés arrived in 1519. Cortés and his men landed at the shore opposite the island where Grijalva had moored, which has the pre-Hispanic name of Chalchihuecan. Cortés, Francisco de Montejo and Alonso Hernández Puertocarrero founded the settlement, naming it Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz.:102 The name Villa Rica (rich village) referred to the gold that was found here and Vera cruz (True Cross) was added because the Cortés expedition landed on Good Friday, a Christian holy day. When Cortés and his soldiers abolished the Aztec despotism and elected a "Justicia Mayor" and a "Capitán General", they created the first city council on the American continent. The city was the first on mainland America to receive a European coat of arms, which was authorized by Carlos V in Valladolid, Spain on 4 July 1523.