Just as in other parts of Northern Mexico, Roman Catholic missionaries were an important influence during the colonial era, and the city became a meeting point for missionaries heading to and from the 'sierra', the mountainous region in western Chihuahua State where the native Tarahumara still live.
During the War of Independence, the city saw little action. However, it was in Chihuahua where Miguel Hidalgo, considered the Father of the Country, was held prisoner in the Federal Palace of Chihuahua and executed in 1811 at the nearby Government Palace by the Spaniards.
During the French invasion, President Benito Juárez made the city the seat of his government-in-exile from 1864 to 1867. During the presidency of Porfirio Díaz the city experienced explosive growth and became one of the most important cities in Mexico. The city became the seat for important banks and wealthy families.
The city was more involved during the Mexican Revolution (1910-1917), for it became at times the operations base for the División del Norte, the army led by Pancho Villa. Many sites and memories remain of the Revolutionary era; the most important of these is the Historical Museum of the Mexican Revolution at Villa's former estate house near downtown Chihuahua. La Quinta Luz was turned into a museum by his widow, Sra. María Luz Corral de Villa, and is now managed by the federal government.
During the 20th century, the city grew in population and learned to take advantage of its proximity with the U.S. border. Until the establishment of foreign manufacturing plants in the 1970s, the city was largely a trade post for cattle and agricultural products. During the 1990s the city grew dramatically economically, becoming the third wealthiest municipality (per capita) in the republic, after Benito Juárez borough of the Federal District (Mexico City), and San Pedro Garza García in Nuevo León.
In 2002, Mayor Jorge Barousse Moreno from the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) died and was succeeded by Alejandro Cano Ricaud. During Cano's administration, the city experienced dramatic growth in the security sector when the Police Department was certified by the ISO and surveillance aircraft bought.
Between 2002 and 2005, the city experimented with the introduction of certain new commercial innovations, like the first large mall in the city, Plaza del Sol, and the rise of the commercial Zone of the Sun, all along the Périferico de la Juventud, one of the main thoroughfares in the city.
In 2004 Juan Blanco Zaldivar, of the National Action Party (PAN), won the election for mayor (municipal president) of the city for the term 2004-2007. Since 2005, the International Festivals of Chihuahua have been celebrated by both the state and city governments during the months of September/October with art shows, plays, stage presentations and concerts by such bands as America, Foreigner, Creedence and Los Lobos being held at venues throughout the city.
Elections for mayor for the term 2007-2010 were held at the beginning of July 2007; Carlos Borruel Baquera of the PAN defeated former mayor Alejandro Cano Ricaud (PRI) by less than one-quarter of a percentage point of almost 200,000 votes cast. The turnout of registered voters, at about 41%, was the lowest in years.
The majority of the population practices Catholicism, but other religious faiths are represented, including Methodists, Baptists and other Christian groups, as well as a small Jewish community.
The literacy rate in the city is among the highest in the republic at 98%; more than 60% of the population is age 30 or below, and population increase runs about 1.49% per annum.
In recent years, new residential zones called "fraccionamientos", rather than colonias, have been erected, some examples of which are Los Huertos, Campobello and Las Fuentes. The fraccionamientos function in the same way as residential developments in the U.S., with some upscale ones being gated, with controlled access such as Club Campestre de Chihuahua, San Francisco Country Club and Haciendas de Santa Fe among others. The growing construction industry is creating many new fraccionamientos in order to try to solve the overwhelming demand for new homes in the city, extending them at an ever-increasing rate every year.
Chihuahua is best described as shaped as a gigantic letter`L', with plains to the north and hills on both sides, as well as the south; crossed east-and-west by Teofilo Borunda Avenue, which follows the natural flow of the Chuviscar River. Borunda is crossed in the west by the Periferico de la Juventud, a major limited-access highway running north-and-south. The main entrance to the city from the north (from the direction of Ciudad Juarez) is Tecnològico Avenue, which is also the Pan-American Highway. A city map is available on the internet at Mapquest.com and other mapping sites.
The geography of the city is dominated by three main hills: Cerro Grande, Cerro Coronel and Santa Rosa, the last of which is fully covered by the city; these three hills appear in the Coat of Arms. The Cerro Grande has a monumental cross that is lighted each Christmas.
To the east and northeast, one finds the Sierra Nombre de Dios across the Sacramento River from the city. Contained therin, off of H. Colegio Militar Ave, are the Nombre de Dios Caverns, a beautiful natural display of minerals and underground formations. To the far east, and south, there's the airport and the highway to the town of Aldama.
The city's commercial sector has also been boosted by the growth of the middle-class. The wages paid by industries to management and high-level technical employees provide a cash flow unlike that of most Mexican cities.
The nightlife is lively, especially in the city centre, where some of the large, pre-revolutionary estate houses have been turned into nightclubs and dance halls, many featuring the best of Chihuahua's live bands.
Most U.S. franchise restaurants and fast-food establishments will be found in Chihuahua, mostly on the Periferico de la Juventud, north of downtown on Universidad Avenue, or on Libertad Street Pedestrian Way in the city centre, and are patronised by the city's youth and young professionals.
Unfortunately, the city has a serious problem with property crime, especially theft and graffiti by taggers. This situation has exploded in recent years. Also, drug-related murders, including murders of law-enforcement officers by narco-traffickers(38 in the last year according to a March 2008 issue of the newspaper Diario de Chihuahua) have, unfortunately, been on the rise.
Urban blight, a common problem in the past, has been attacked with gusto since the mid-1990s with the demolition of abandoned buildings and the creation of green spaces, such as the Plaza Mayor and the Central Park "El Palomar"; once one of the city's worst slums, now a patch of green in the middle of Chihuahua. Going hand-in-hand with the urban renewal is the movement of those living in the shantytowns of the city into new housing being built by the government in the northern sector. These homes, ranging from 300 to in area, have been designed to help instill pride-of-ownership into those who never had a fixed abode. The jury is still out as to whether the experiment will work in the end, although city fathers remain optimistic.
The city of Chihuahua offers many places of interest for the tourist, especially the history buff (see Museums of Chihuahua), including the baroque Metropolitan Cathedral, seat of the Archdiocese (and the resting place of St Peter of Jesus Maldonado, a Cristero martyr of the 1930s), dating from the 18th century, the Government Palace from the early 19th century, and the City Hall from the turn of the 20th century, on the Plaza de Armas across from the Cathedral.
During the French invasion and the Second Empire, which ended with the execution of the Habsburg Emperor Maximilian in 1867, the constitutional president, Benito Juárez García traveled the country, searching for support wherever he could. He found it in 1864 when he settled his cabinet and government-in-exile here in the city at the address now known as Ave. Juárez 321, and incidentally, making Chihuahua the only city, aside from Mexico City, to be the capital of the Republic. The Museo Casa Juarez, now known as The Museum of Republican Loyalty, has been faithfully restored to the appearance it had when President Juárez lived here from 1864 through 1866.
The city offers the service of the touristic "Trolley el Tarahumara" which is a special bus that goes around to all the main museums and monuments in the City Centre(starting its route at the Plaza de Armas), including parks like the Central Park "El Palomar", a large park that has a collection of sculptures, including one depicting three doves (palomas, hence the park's name) and a monumental flagpole, flying one of the largest flags in the Republic, as well as a statue of one of Chihuahua's favourite sons, the late actor Anthony Quinn, in his famous role as 'Zorba the Greek', as well as many others. The city is renowned for its classical and modern sculpture, as seen on any main boulevard or avenue. Included are works by Espino, Baltazar, Ponzanelli and Sebastian, the latter being a native of Chihuahua.
Particularly noteworthy are the murals in the Government Palace and the Paraninfo, or University Auditorium (in the Literary and Scientific Institute building) both depicting the history of the State of Chihuahua, and both fronting upon the Plaza Hidalgo in the city centre, and catter-cornered from the Plaza Mayor (listed below). Also of note is the Quinta Gameros, one of the largest estate houses in pre-revolutionary Chihuahua City, now the state museum for the decorative arts, and the former Federal Palace of Chihuahua on Venustiano Carranza Street, north of the Government Palace, which is now a museum and contains the cell in which Miguel Hidalgo spent his final days, and is a national shrine.
The Mammoth Museum, at Gomez Morin (also Calle 27a) and Ave. Juarez, is the city natural history museum and contains 13 halls detailing prehistoric life from the dinosaurs through the reign of the mammals, or the Cenozoic Era. It also has exhibits of prehistoric art. The Semilla Museo Centro de Ciencia y Tecnología, or Seed Centre Museum of Science and Technology, on Teofilo Borunda and Lisboa in the City Centre, is a creative learning centre and interactive science museum for children.
The Feria (Fair) of Santa Rita, known throughout the Republic, is held during the last two weeks of May and features internationally known recording artists in concert. The fair has been held annually for decades. In addition, the University Symphony performs at the Paraninfo weekly during the summer months, and features international guest artists in classical and pops concerts.
The Dorados de Chihuahua, the local baseball team in the Mexican League(AAA), plays in a new stadium in the southside of the city during the summer months. The Plaza de Toros, or bull fighting ring, 'La Esperanza' is located on Teofilo Borunda on the north side of the river, and features Corridas (Bullfights) during the summer and fall.
The Plaza Mayor is an important square in the city centre that displays fountains, green spaces and a collection of monuments depicting local heroes. The main monument in the Plaza Mayor is the "Ángel de la Libertad" that was built in 2003 representing the freedom of all Mexicans, especially Chihuahua's people. It was inaugurated during the Independence Day festivities on September 15 of that same year. The angel has a sword with a laser light at the tip, and is capable of rotating 360° over its axis.