This Day in World History
February 2, 1536
Buenos Aires First Founded
On February 2, 1536, Spanish explorer Pedro de Mendoza founded the city he named Nuestra Señora Santa María del Buen Aire—Buenos Aires, Argentina. The new town was meant to spearhead the Spanish effort to colonize the interior of South America. It came less than two years after conquistadors had returned to Spain from Peru with treasures seized from the Inca empire.
Spain’s Charles I was spurred by the vast Inca wealth to seek further riches in South America. He also wanted to block any effort by Portugal to expand its foothold in Brazil. Accordingly, he commissioned Mendoza to mount an expedition to explore and settle the Río de la Plata, a vast estuary in southern South America that had been sighted back in 1516.
Mendoza set out in August 1535 in command of 800 to 1700 men (accounts vary) in around a dozen ships. The expedition — the largest sent from Spain to the Americas to date — was ill fated, however. A fierce storm blew the ships off course, and after regrouping Mendoza decided that one of his lieutenants was a rebel and had him executed. Troubles continued after the founding of Buenos Aires. At first the Spaniards received gifts of food from the indigenous locals but soon after fighting broke out between the two groups. That conflict cut off the chief source of food, and the Spaniards began to starve. Mendoza sent a lieutenant upriver in search of a friendlier site. He founded Asunción, now the capital of Paraguay.
Mendoza himself headed back to Spain in 1537. He was seriously ill — perhaps from syphilis — and died on the return trip. His settlement continued to struggle, and in 1541 the remaining colonists abandoned it, heading for Asunción. Not until 1580, when Juan de Garay returned to the scene, was a permanent Spanish presence established at Buenos Aires.