Visiting Sucre in Bolivia

The City With Four Names

Sucre Bolivia
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Call it Sucre, La Plata, Charcas, or Ciudad Blanca, the city of Sucre, Bolivia has a rich, varied history and a wealth of historical architecture deserving of the selection as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Sucre shares capital city status with La Paz, the legislative and administrative capital. Sucre, the constitutional capital and home of the Supreme Court, is also a university city, with many cultural attractions, museums, shops, restaurants. San Francisco Xavier University was founded in 1625, one of the oldest universities in the Americas, and specializes in law. Relatively small, Sucre is an easily walkable city and the older sections, with the white colonial buildings and their distinctive red-tiled roofs and balconies, offer nooks and crannies to explore.

Home to a large indigenous population who maintain their traditional clothing and customs, and sell their crafts and goods available in the markets and fairs, Sucre is more than a charming colonial city. It is also a major agricultural center and supplies the mining communities of the barren altiplano. It has an oil refinery and a cement plant. 

When the Spanish conquistadores overran the Inca Empire, they created a settlement called Villa de Plata on 16th April 1540. Later the settlement became known simply as La Plata and in 1559 became the seat of the Audiencia of Charcas, part of the vice-regency of Peru.

The Audiencia covered the region from Buenos Aires to La Paz, making La Plata, also known as Charcas, an important city. With the establishment of the University Real y Pontificia de San Francisco Xavier and the Caroline Academy in 1624, La Plata drew learned and libertarian minds and later became the birthplace of Bolivian independence.

During the 17th century, liberals recognized the traditional values of the ethnic population and La Plata was renamed Chuquisaca, a contraction of its traditional Indian name of Choquechaca. On August 6, 1825, following fifteen years of struggle, the Declaration of Independence was signed in Chuquisaca. The city was promptly renamed Sucre in honor of the Marshall of Ayacucho, José Antonio de Sucre, who had fought with his Venezuelan compatriot, Simon Bolivar to liberate other countries of South America.

With the mining boom in nearby Potosí at the change of the 18/19th centuries, Sucre underwent architectural updates, creating a new and splendid look to the city's streets, parks and plazas.

Attractions in Sucre

  • Casa de la Libertad: This house, on the main plaza, is where the Declaration of Independence of Bolivia was signed on August 6th, 1825. Portraits of presidents, military decorations, and documents, including the Declaration of Independence, are displayed. 
  • Museo de la Recoleta: Established by the Franciscan Order between 1601 - 1613, this complex served as a convent, barracks, prison, and museum. Now a museum, it houses anonymous paintings from the 16th to 20th centuries as well as works by Diego Quispe Curo and Juán Pérez Villareal. 
  • Universidad Mayor de San Francisco Xavier: Founded on March 27th, 1624 by Padre Juan de Frías Herrán. 
  • Biblioteca Nacional de Bolivia: Archivo Nacional: Contains documents of the Audiencia de Charcas and those of the republic. Includes documents from the XVI to the XX centuries.
  • Museo de Charcas: Displays paintings by Melchor Pérez de Holguín as well as furniture handcrafted by native Indians.
  • Museo del Arte Moderno: Displays works of modern Bolivian painting and sculptures.
  • Museo Textil Etnográfico: Features art exhibitions and art workshops.
  • Museo Antropológico: Displays skulls, pottery, mummies, and textiles from the eastern tribes of Bolivia.
  • Churches:
    • The Cathedral, begun in 1551, this is the most complex of the colonial religious buildings with Renaissance, Baroque and "Mestizo Baroque" features. Especially remarkable are the mayor altar and the dome crowned by the cross of Carabuco.
    • Chapel of the Virgen de Guadalupe: Built in 1617 by order of Fray Gerónimo Méndez de la Piedra, is next to the Cathedral and honors the Virgen with a jewel-covered image painted by Fray Diego de Ocaña.
    • San Francisco, begun in 1577, is honored for the "bell of freedom" calling Sucre's citizens to revolt on May 25th, 1809.
    • Santa Barbara, a unique Renaissance church constructed in 1887.
    • La Merced, San Miguel and Santo Domingo
    • Santa Mónica
    • San Lázaro, begun in 1544 is the oldest church of the Audiencia de Charcas.

Beyond the City Limits

  • Palacio de la Glorieta: Now a military school, this was formerly a mansion owned by the wealthy entrepreneur Don Francisco de Argandoña. Named El Principado de La Glorieta, this castle-like palace is a fanciful mix of architectural styles, including Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Neoclassicists and Mudejar, and is located 7 km from Sucre.
  • Dinosaur Marks: 10 km north of the city, this site contains dinosaur footprints as well as prehistoric plant and animal fossils.
  • Tarabuco: Famed for maintaining traditional garb and customs, the town's Sunday market offers everyday goods and services, plus crafts and textiles. There also is the colonial country property Kantunucchu, with its living rooms, steeples and nostalgic corridors open to visitors.

Getting There

Daily flights from La Paz and other cities are sometimes delayed by weather, particularly in the rainy months of December to March, but nevertheless recommended to surface travel. The rains can also make travel by road difficult.

At an altitude of 9528 ft (2904 m), Sucre enjoys a temperate climate with an annual average temperature of 20° C. (50 to 60 F) and, when it's not raining, sunny days and clean, pure air. Check today's weather in Sucre.

If possible, time your visit to enjoy the anniversary of Chuquisaca in May; the Fiesta of San Juan in June; the Vírgen del Cármen festival in July, national independence day in August and the city-wide celebrations in honor of the Vírgen de Guadalupe in September.

Buen viaje!

This article about Sucre Bolivia was updated November 30, 2016 by Ayngelina Brogan.

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