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Most of the population of Paraguay outside of Asunción is in this region—particularly in Itá, Villa Florida, Encarnación, and Ciudad del Este. For a scenic trip through Southern Paraguay's history, though, be sure to stop at the seven 17th-century Jesuit missions along the 405-km (253-mi) drive from Asunción to Jesús. They date from as far back as 1609, when the newly formed Compañía de
Jesús (Society of Jesus, better known as the Jesuits) was granted permission by the Spanish crown to move the nomadic Guaraní people, threatened by slave traders from Brazil, into self-sufficient agricultural communities. Each community, called a reducción (literally meaning "reduction"), had a population of about 3,000 Guaraní under the charge of two or three priests who taught them agricultural and other practical skills such as stonemasonry and metalwork, as well as the rudiments of Christianity. Each reducción was centered on a large plaza with a chapel, the priests' living quarters, and usually a school. The main buildings, most often constructed of red sandstone blocks, had terra-cotta-tile roofs, wide verandas, and covered walkways. The experiment, however, was so successful that the Spanish monarchs banned the Jesuits from their New World empire in 1767. The 100,000 Guaraní soon returned to their old way of life and the missions fell into disrepair.