Bolivia, a landlocked country in South America, covers an area of 1.1 million sq. km. (425,000 sq. mi.); about the size of Texas and California combined. Named after the independence fighter Simon Bolivar, Bolivia broke away from Spanish rule, declaring independence August 6, 1825. The climate varies with altitude, from humid and tropical to semiarid and cold. The terrain consists of high plateau (altiplano), temperate and semitropical valleys, and the tropical lowlands. La Paz is at the highest elevation of the world's capital cities--3,600 meters (11,800 ft.) above sea level. The adjacent city of El Alto, at 4,200 meters above sea level, is one of the fastest-growing in the hemisphere. Santa Cruz, the commercial and industrial hub of the eastern lowlands, also is experiencing rapid population and economic growth.
Bolivia's ethnic distribution is estimated to be 56%-70% indigenous people, and 30%-42% European and mixed. The largest of the approximately three-dozen indigenous groups are the Quechua (2.5 million), Aymara (2 million), Chiquitano (180,000), and Guarani (125,000). There are small German, former Yugoslav, Asian, Middle Eastern, and other minorities, many of whose members descend from families that have lived in Bolivia for several generations. The great majority of Bolivians are Roman Catholic (the official religion), although Protestant denominations are expanding strongly. Many indigenous communities interweave pre-Columbian and Christian symbols in their religious practices. The official language is Spanish, although Quechua, Aymara, and Guarani is also spoken.
The Andean region probably has been inhabited for some 20,000 years. Beginning about the 2nd century B.C., the Tiwanakan culture developed at the southern end of Lake Titicaca. This culture, centered around and named for the great city of Tiwanaku, developed advanced architectural and agricultural techniques before it disappeared around 1200 A.D., probably because of extended drought. Roughly contemporaneous with the Tiwanakan culture, the Moxos in the eastern lowlands and the Mollos north of present-day La Paz also developed advanced agricultural societies that had dissipated by the 13th century of our era. In about 1450, the Quechua-speaking Incas entered the area of modern highland Bolivia and added it to their empire. They controlled the area until the Spanish conquest in 1525.
CIA World Factbook; U.S. Dept. of State Background Notes, 6/2005, 4/2005