San Fernando del Valle de Catamarca, the Fortress
Catamarca is a quechua word that means “fortress in the hillside” and makes reference to the geographical settlement of the city. Cata: hillside or slope. Marca: fortress or castle on the border.
The Incan empire invaded our territory in the XV Century. The exact date is unknown. The Incan state occupied the West of La Rioja and Catamarca, where it established the fabulous Pucará de Aconquija, one of the largest fortresses of the southern frontier of the Empire.
In order to give shape to the Collasuyu, the Empire had to create a series of administrative entities today known as provinces. For instance, the province of Chicoana would cover an area ranging from Bolivia to the South of the Incan settlement of Chicoana (La Paya), which was the head or capital of this province. It included the puna ground and the northern part of the Calchaquí Valley. Towards the South, was the province of Quire-Quire, which occupied the rest of the Calchaquí Valley, the entire Santa María Valley and the Andalgalá, Hualfín and Abaucán Valleys (Catamarca).
The central area includes a group of valleys and ravines located between 1,500 and 3,000 meters above sea level, which develop into the provinces of Catamarca, La Rioja, the North of San Juan, the West of Tucumán and the West of Salta.
The diaguitas who used to dwell in Catamarca spoke kakä, kakán or kacano, a language very hard to pronounce due to its extremely guttural phonetics. This tongue has totally died out.
According to father Antonio Larrouy –who lived in the late XVII century- the Indians would communicate in the quechua tongue, which was spoken by the Peruvian Indians and was imported by the Spanish conquerors and especially by the missionaries.
Most of the ancient Spanish feature writers, as well as the present archeologists, consider that the main reason for the conquest of the Collasuyu was the existence of a territory full of gold, silver, copper, lead, semi-precious stones and even salt, which encouraged both the Inca and the Spanish in their effort to dominate the region.
Catamarca was founded for the first time in 1558 by Juan Pérez de Zurita, under the name of New England's London, to pay homage to Phillip II, whose wife, Mary Tudor, was English. He founded it in the Quinmivil Valley and two other foundations followed: one by Ramírez de Velazco, in 1591, in the same spot, and another one in July 5, 1683, , by don Fernando Mendoza de Mate de Luna, in the site where today lies its capital city (the Ambato foothills, on the right bank of the Valle River).
In the interim between the second and the third foundation, it was deprived from the hierarchy of city by a judicial resolution passed by Charles II's Royal Warrant on August 16, 1679, as it was a "virtual" city without houses, without a church and with a population that was too scattered and scarce. The only presence of such state was represented by the royal banner.
Until 1821, the territories of Tucumán and Catamarca were joined. On August 25 of the same year, Nicolás Avellaneda y Tula, who ruled over the destinations of Catamarca on behalf of the Republic of Tucumán, summoned the most select members of society in Catamarca at the Town Hall.
It was then that Catamarca and its territory were solemnly declared as free as all the other towns which constituted provinces. Thus, the dependency of the Republic of Tucumán was dissolved and Nicolás Avellaneda y Tula was appointed first governor.
Catamarca contributed men, supplies and provisions to the exploit of independence and with the words of Fray Mamerto Esquiú -the Constitution Orator- to national organization. In his famous lecture Laetamur de gloria vestra (“Your joy makes us feel glad”), he pronounced sensible moderating words that would summon the spirit of men to peace and order.
The news of the May Revolution reached Catamarca one month later. Devoted to following the instructions received through notifications issued by the First Government Assembly, the town council took all the necessary measures to elect a representative from Catamarca. There was an attempt to continue with the old regime generated by subintendant Francisco de Acuña, who was elected for such position at the Open Council meeting summoned to such effect. But he did not possess the necessary virtues.
It was necessary to summon a new Open Council meeting which consecrated José Antonio de Aguilera, native from the area. When the Government Assembly was communicated news of the new appointment, the Town Council highlighted his capability, erudition and merit which he had acquired while serving the country.
A contingent of natives from Catamarca took part in the battle of Tucumán under the command of Bernardino Ahumada y Barros and won a decisive victory for the cause of May. Belgrano had said to the commader mentioned above: "If the children of Catamarca want to cover themselves and their province with glory and success, come join the people from Jujuy, Salta, Tucumán and Santiago del Estero".
When the Supreme Director summoned the provinces at Tucumán to a General Constitution Congress, Catamarca was represented by Presbyter doctor Manuel Antonio de Azevedo and don José Antonio Olmos de Aguilera, who, due to health problems, transferred his power to Presbyter José Eusebio Colombres.
After Caseros, a group of patriotic governors blessed Catamarca with stability and progress.
Pedro Segura, who made the province swear oath to the Constitution passed in Santa Fe; Sinforeano Lascano, who sanctioned the first Provincial Constitution; General Octaviano Navarro, during whose government the first printing press was introduced in Catamarca; and Samuel Molina, who inaugurated the present Government House in 1859.
A period of institutional and cultural progress, of peace and concord, was broken after the battle of Pavón. Between 1862 and 1868, an extremely stormy period (called “the seven-year night”) followed. During such term, riots, governors' dismissal from office and replacements, interventions, armed battles and other civil vicissitudes kept a constant state of uneasiness in Catamarca.
The main productive activities in Catamarca are intensive agriculture and mining. The spaces between mountains, such as valleys and dales, have been used for agriculture.
Colonial style houses with red roofs, wide gates and patios full of sunshine still survive and recall the stage of their foundation.
This is a traditionalist tourist city with an important commercial activity and cultural life.