The city of Asunción, located on the east bank of the Paraguay River, is a bustling metropolis of a little over half a million inhabitants, with another 2.1 million living in the surrounding environs. The city was founded in the early 16th century by a “handful” of Spanish conquistadors who were looking for both shelter from the failed founding of Buenos Aires and the famed cities of silver believed to be located in the heart of South America. The intrepid survivors of the first conquest of the region quickly made alliances with local peoples—in particular the Cario-Guaraní who lived in what is early-21st-century Asunción. These complicated alliances have resulted in what is a strong myth about the founding of Asunción and Paraguay: that Paraguay was founded on a peaceful alliance, in particular between Spanish men and Cario women. This relationship gave rise to the mestizo, the first Paraguayans according to Paraguayan myth. However, in recent years, historians have put this myth to bed, as historians and ethnohistorians have demonstrated that the conquest of Paraguay was both violent and traumatic. Nonetheless, the powerful myth has proven resilient in both popular culture and in Paraguay’s nationalist historiography. It should also be noted that the historiography of the city of Asunción is notoriously weak. In the early part of the 20th century, Paraguayan historians began to take an interest in the early colonial period, and a series of debates took place about the dates and circumstances of the founding of the city in the 1530s, the location of the first “Casa Fuerte,” and the heroic feats of the first conquistadors. However, by the middle of the 20th century, most of the literature about the city was written to glorify the achievements of its residents, including texts that highlighted the physical beauty of the city and the achievements of its wealthier residents. In honor of Paraguay’s bicentennial in 2011, a wave of material, some published by professional historians, but mainly written by Asunción’s journalists, was produced. This literature has a tendency to present a casual look at the history of the city and its residents. In other words, much of the literature about the city and its residents is mostly uncritical of politics and does little more than give a timeline of events. There are several professional historians working to improve the quality of the historical literature, but, in general, quality work about the history of the city since its founding through the early 21st century is generally relegated to tales that amount to hero worship, are rather unsophisticated, and generally lack in critical interpretation about asuncenos (residents of Asunción) and their city.
Overviews and Bibliographies
As already narrated, the historiography of the city of Asunción is rather weak. The five works in this section, however, are a short guide to the city. Kallsen 1987 is of interest because it is an extensive listing of bibliographic material from newspapers that could be quite useful to the historian studying the early and middle 20th century. Bordon 1932 contains easily accessible maps of the city and highlights many of the city’s tourist destinations. The compilation Departamento de Cultura y Arte 1967 is an unusual, but useful, collection of documents and sources. It contains the reprint of Paraguay’s most important historians J. Natalicio Gonzalez and Manuel Dominguez, and their visions of the city. Verón and Figueredo 2007 is a good Wikipedia-styled work intended to introduce nonexperts to the city’s history, while Zubizarretta and Rivarola 2007 is intended for a much more academic audience and contains useful essays pertaining to the city.
Bordon, Arturo F. Paraguay Guía Geográfica de Turismo. Asunción, Paraguay: La Colmena, S. A., 1932.
A guide for tourists with maps of various Paraguayan cities, including Asunción. Designed for tourists with autos, it lists roads and distances from city to city in Asunción. It also lists and contains images of various tourist sites in Asunción.
Departamento de Cultura y Arte. Historia Edilicia de la Ciudad de Asunción. Asunción, Paraguay: Artes Gráficas Zamphiropolos, 1967.
A compilation of both primary and secondary material on the city. Contains chapters by some of Paraguay’s most important historians including, but not limited to, J. Natalicio Gonzalez and Manuel Dominguez. Also contains an odd mix of lists of tourist attractions, cultural activities, and poetry. A mix between historical text and travel guide.
Kallsen, Margarita. Asunción: 450 años de su fundación, 1537–1987. Asunción, Paraguay: Centro de Publicaciones de la Universidad Católica Ntra Sra. de la Asunción, 1987.
Bibliographic reference for the city. It is mostly a collection of poems and newspaper articles about the city. Quite useful for those interested in Paraguayan literature.
Verón, Luis, and Alvaro Ayala Figueredo. Libro de oro de la ciudad de Asunción. Asunción, Paraguay: Alvaro Ayala Producciones, 2007.
An encyclopedic summary of the history of Asunción written in celebration of the 470th anniversary of its founding. Contains short chapters about significant historical figures, events, and culture.
Zubizarretta, Carlos, and Gustavo Laterza Rivarola. Origen e historias de Asunción. Asuncion, Paraguay: Servilibro, 2007.
A reprint and shortened version of various essays and histories of Asunción. A good starting point to understanding the writings about the city from both the 19th and 20th century.
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