Sucre is one of the finest examples of Bolivia’s colonial heritage and one of its main tourist attractions. The city exudes the assured confidence and charm befitting the country’s official capital, legal centre and major university city. Isolation has helped the city to preserve its courtly charm – and just a hint of snobbery.
After independence in 1825, Sucre became capital of the new republic and held this position until 1899 when, following a civil war, La Paz took over as seat of government. Simmering discontent among the population gained new force in 2007, when the city demanded that legislative power be returned to the true capital. Following several days of protests, Sucre was named ‘constitutional capital’ instead of ‘historical capital’ and was offered a new airport and a road to the Pacific but the issue remains a major bone of contention.
In 1991 UNESCO declared the city a ‘Patrimonio Histórico y Cultural de la Humanidad’ (World Cultural Heritage Site) and it’s easy to see why. It’s an absolute must for enthusiasts of colonial religious architecture, with many beautiful churches, all painted white. In keeping with colonial tradition, the entire core of the city is painted white, earning it the name of ’La Ciudad Blanca’.
Sucre is not just a colonial museum, though, but a thriving university city. It is known as the student capital of Bolivia and thousands of students fill every street, plaza, bar and café. There are two universities, the oldest, Universidad Mayor de San Francisco Xavier, dates from 1624. This was the main source of libertarian thought and gave birth to the very first demands for independence heard on the continent, on 25 May, 1809.
Surrounding this sparkling white colonial masterpiece is a hinterland of traditional weaving villages, which burst into life during their frequent market days and festivals. Dinosaur-hunters are also making tracks for Sucre, with the discovery of many prehistoric footprints.