Baja California (highlighted)
- Alternative use: Baja California (state)
Baja California or Lower California is a peninsula in the west of Mexico. It extends some 1250 km from Tijuana in the north to Cabo San Lucas in the south, separating the Pacific Ocean from the Gulf of California (or "Sea of Cortés").
The "Island of California"
In the minds of European explorers, California existed as an idea before it was ever discovered. The earliest known mention of the idea of California was in the 1510 romance novel Las Sergas de Esplandián by Spanish author García Ordóñez de Montalvo. The book described the Island of California as being west of the Indies, "very close to the side of the Terrestrial Paradise; and it is peopled by black women, without any man among them, for they live in the manner of Amazons."
The lure of an earthly paradise, as well as the search for the fabled Strait of Anián, helped motivate Hernán Cortés, following his conquest of Mexico, to send several expeditions in the late 1530s and early 1540s to the west coast of New Spain. The first of several expeditions reached the Gulf of California and Baja California, and proved that the Island of California was in fact a peninsula. Nevertheless, the idea of the island persisted for well over a century and was included on many maps. The Spanish gave the name "California" to the peninsula and to the lands north, including both Baja California and Alta California, the region that became the present-day U.S. states of California, Nevada, Utah, etc.
See also: Origin of the name California
The peninsula is divided into two parts:
1532 — Hernán Cortés sends two ships north along the coast of Mexico in search of the Island of California. The two ships disappear without a trace.
1533 — Cortés sends a follow-up mission to search for the lost ships. Pilot Fortún Ximénez leads a mutiny and founds a settlement in the Bay of La Paz before being killed.
1539 — Francisco de Ulloa explores both coasts.
1690s–1700s — Spanish settlement in California
1804 — The Spanish colony of California is divided into Alta ("high") and Baja ("low") California at the line separating the Franciscan missions in the north from the Dominican missions in the south.
- In 1850, after Alta California has been annexed by the United States, Baja California is further divided into northern and southern territories.
1952 — Northern Baja California becomes the 29th state of Mexico; the southern part remains a federally administered territory.
1974 — The southern territory becomes the 31st state, Baja California Sur.
Last updated: 05-09-2005 12:51:41