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Although the modern, tourist-friendly Mazatlan that we know today was only founded in the 1960s, the area in which the city is located has been inhabited for hundreds, possibly thousands of years. The later of the two ranges is based on discoveries of petroglyphs, made by numerous scientists on the off-shore islands of the area. Some believe that these markings date back almost 10,000 years.
Totorames, the local Indians, occupied the land long before 25 Spanish Zealots forced their way into the region in 1531, but with the destruction of many historical records, written history begins with the Spaniards. The records may be gone, but the name Mazatlan, based on the Nahutal word Mazatl (means place of the deer), is evidence alone that the other civilizations predate the Spanish.
A compelling reason to occupy the area was the wealth of gold found in the region’s mines. The Spanish knew about the gold, took it from the Indians, and made profit up and down the Pacific coast. But gold draws attention, and before long, French and English pirates began robbing the Spanish Galleons of their wealth. Eventually the colonial government established a presidio on the harbor and watchtowers atop the Cerros, and the pirates were gone by 1800. Still today there are legends of buried treasure in the area.
The Germans were the first to develop the port in Mazatlan, and by the mid 1800s during the gold rush, international business began flowing through the growing port.
For fourteen years between 1859 until 1873, Mazatlan served as the capital of the state of Sinaloa and the city prospered.
Mazatlan has had a history of troubled times, from plagues of cholera and yellow fever, to numerous occupations by the Americans, French and British during the late 1800s. After these occupations, revolution consumed the area from 1910 – 1917. This was followed by ten years of prosperity, which eventually ended with the depression.
The Mazatlan that most people are familiar with was established in the 1960s as a tourist town. Today it is Northwestern Mexico’s largest tourist destination.