Archaeological evidence indicates that people first inhabited Acapulco around 3000 BC, growing crops and fishing. Around 1500 BC the area was settled by the Nahuas, a tribe related to the Nahuatl, who populated much of southern Mexico. The Nahuatl language provided the name Acapulco, meaning "place of canes" or "reeds." Although it is generally accepted that the first nonnatives to reach Acapulco were Spaniards led by Hernán Cortés, some local historians claim that a Chinese monk named Fa Hsein predated Cortés by 1,000 years.
From 1565 to 1815 the Spanish maintained a thriving port and trading center in Acapulco. Spanish galleons returning from Asia, primarily the Philippines and China, delivered silks, porcelain, jade, jasmine, and spices. These goods were then carried overland on a 6-foot-wide trail to the Mexico Gulf coast town of Veracruz for shipment to Spain. Many pirate ships lurked outside Acapulco Bay, making the Pacific voyages a risky business.
Acapulco became a town in 1799, but started to decline with the War of Independence, when locals sided with the Spanish Royalists. Insurgent leader José María Morelos showed his displeasure by burning much of the town in 1814. Independence from Spain and a changing world rendered the trade route obsolete.
The town remained in relative obscurity until 1927, when a road was built connecting the port to Mexico City and bringing the first tourists. It wasn't long before Hollywood celebrities and other wealthy world travelers started to arrive, and Acapulco began its transformation. One of the first to recognize the potential of the area was then Mexican President Miguel Alemán, who purchased miles of undeveloped coastline. He in turn sold a portion of the land to billionaire oil magnate J. Paul Getty, who built a lavish getaway for himself and his friends—now the Fairmont Pierre Marqués Hotel on Playa Revolcadero.
By the 1960s it seemed everyone in Hollywood was vacationing in Acapulco: Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Leslie Caron, Cary Grant, Lana Turner, John Wayne, Errol Flynn, Brigitte Bardot, Elvis Presley, Elizabeth Taylor—too many names to list. World leaders, artists, and writers were also frequent visitors, including John, Robert, and Edward Kennedy, Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, the Reverend Billy Graham, Salvador Dalí, Tennessee Williams, and John Huston. To read about the long celebrity history of Acapulco, as well as a great account of how the town has grown, pick up a copy of the book Mike Oliver's Acapulco. Oliver, who died in 2004, published the English-language Acapulco News for decades, and knew and socialized with all of Acapulco's celebrity visitors.
Acapulco today, although not the Hollywood hangout of times past, is still a major tourist destination, especially with Mexican nationals, who make up about 80% of its visitors. Most people will acknowledge that early city planners allowed too much beachfront development, forever changing the visual and aesthetic landscape, but the sun, sand, and culture of this vibrant and historic city still attract fun-seekers by the millions.
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