Beginning with the 1492 arrival of Christopher Columbus, the Spanish Empire expanded for four centuries (1492-1892) across most of present day Central America, the Caribbean islands, Mexico, and much of the rest of North America. The empire also claimed territory in present-day British Columbia; the states of Alaska, Washington, and Oregon; and the western half of South America. Colonial expansion under the Spanish Empire was initiated by the Spanish conquistadores and developed by the Monarchy of Spain through its administrators and missionaries. The motivations for colonial expansion were trade and the spread of the Christian faith through indigenous conversions.
CONQUEST OF LATIN AMERICA BY THE SPANISH EMPIRE
Columbus' initial landing and first mainland explorations were followed by a phase of inland expeditions and conquest in the Caribbean and South America, where the first European settlements were settled in the New World. In 1500, the city of Nueva Cádiz was founded on the island of Cubagua, Venezuela. This was followed shortly thereafter by the founding of Santa Cruz by Alonso de Ojeda on the present-day Guajira peninsula. In 1502, on the coast of present-day Colombia, near the Gulf of Urabá, Spanish explorers led by Vasco Núez de Balboa explored and conquered the area near the Atrato River. This area was inhabited by the Chibchan speaking nations, mainly the indigenous Muisca and Tairona people. The Spanish founded San Sebastian de Uraba in 1509 (abandoned within the year), and the first permanent Spanish mainland settlement in America, Santa María la Antigua del Darién, in 1510.
The Spanish conquistador, Juan Ponce de Leon, was an early visitor to the Americas. He traveled to the New World on Columbus's second voyage and became the first governor of Puerto Rico in 1509. Upon the death of Christopher Columbus, the Spanish did not allow Christopher's son, who also had committed atrocities upon the Native Americans of the Caribbean, to succeed. The governors were released and replaced with successors from Spain. Juan Ponce De Leon, freed of his governorship, decided to explore areas to the north, where there was rumored to be a Fountain of Youth. Leon found a peninsula on the coast of North America, called the new land Florida, and chartered a colonizing expedition. His presence there was brief, however, as he was attacked by native American forces and died in nearby Cuba.
The conquistadors, believing they held considerable military and technological superiority over the native cultures, attacked and destroyed the Aztecs in 1521. This campaign was led by Hernán Cortés, and featured the Tlaxcala and other indigenous peoples allied against the Mexica/Aztec empire. The Spanish conquest of the Maya civilization - based in the Yucatán Peninsula of present day Mexico and northern Central America - was a much longer campaign, lasting from 1551 to 1697. The day Hernán Cortés landed ashore at present day Veracruz, April 22, 1519, marks the beginning of 300 years of Spanish hegemony over the region.
By the early 16th century, Spanish conquistadors had penetrated deep into Central and South America. European explorers arrived to Río de la Plata in 1516. Their first Spanish settlement here was the Fort of Sancti Spiritu, established in 1527 next to the Paraná River. Buenos Aires, a permanent colony, was established in 1536, and in 1537 Asunción was established in the area that is now Paraguay. Buenos Aires suffered attacks by the indigenous peoples that forced the settlers away, and in 1541 the site was abandoned. A second (and permanent) settlement was established in 1580 by Juan de Garay. He dubbed the settlement "Santísima Trinidad," and its port became "Puerto de Santa María de los Buenos Aires. "
In 1532, at the Battle of Cajamarca, a group of Spanish soldiers under Francisco Pizarro and their indigenous Andean Indian allies ambushed and captured the Emperor Atahualpa of the Inca Empire. It was the first step in a long campaign - which took advantage of a recent civil war and the enmity of indigenous nations the Incas had subjugated - that required decades of fighting to subdue the mightiest empire in the Americas. In the following years, the conquistadors and indigenous allies extended control over the greater Andes region, leading to the establishment of the Viceroyalty of Perú in 1542.
By 1565, Spanish forces looked to expand their influence and religion (Catholicism) in the New World by attacking the French settlement of Fort Caroline. The Spanish navy overwhelmed 200 French Huguenot settlers and slaughtered them, even as they surrendered to Spain's superior military might. Spain formed the settlement of St. Augustine as an outpost to ensure that French Huguenots were no longer welcome in the area. St. Augustine is the oldest continuously occupied European-established city in North America.