El Salvador is the smallest of the seven countries in Central America, similar in size to Massachusetts. And with 6.5 million people living there, El Salvador is also the most densely populated region.
The little country, which means “The Savior” in Spanish, is bounded by Honduras, the Pacific Ocean, and Guatemala. Because it has 23 active volcanoes running through its highlands, people sometimes call El Salvador the Land of Volcanoes.
Most Salvadorans have a mixed ethnicity or are mestizo, a term referring to people of indigenous and European descent. Spanish is the official language spoken, with most indigenous dialects falling out of use.
We can trace El Salvador’s origin to ancient times. The Mayans, Aztecs, and Pipi people are some of the earliest recorded indigenous groups inhabiting it. Only a few clans of indigenous people remain today, having lost their lives during El Salvador’s bloody and tumultuous history.
Many flags have flown in El Salvador. The first adopted under colonial rule was the burgundy cross of the Viceroy of New Spain in 1535. The flag has undergone many variations and has been substituted a handful of times after liberation. The present-day flag, comprising a dark blue and white horizontal tricolor and a coat of arms, has remained hoisted since 1912.
This informative guide will teach you about El Salvador, its tumultuous history, present-day issues, and the creation of its flag.
Where Is El Salvador Located on a Map?
El Salvador is bordered by the South Pacific Ocean to the west and southwest, Honduras to its east and northeast, and Guatemala to its northwest. The majority of the country lies almost horizontally from east to west. Along with Belize, El Salvador does not have access to the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, unlike the other Central American countries.
History of El Salvador
Predating Spanish colonization, many indigenous tribes flourished in El Salvador, living off the land and learning skills to survive.
One of the most predominant clans was the Pipil. They arrived in El Salvador from Mexico around the 11th century. Once nomadic, they settled in El Salvador, calling the land they lived on “Cuscatlan” or “land of the jewels.” Salvadorans still use this affectionate term to reference their homeland.
The Pipil tribe farmed extensively and developed complex cultural norms before Spain invaded El Salvador in 1524. Although guns and armory outmatched them, these indigenous people resisted the Spaniards’ invasion for years. When the Spaniards eventually took possession of the land, the size of the native people dropped. Many succumbed to bloodshed and diseases.
The hope of the Spaniard invaders, led by Pedro de Alvarado, was to discover precious metals in El Salvador. What they found was more valuable – land and labor.
Many Spaniards made their fortune through agriculture. They exported various local products to become wealthy – including cocoa, indigo, and cotton.
The Spaniards imposed The Enciomenda System onto the locals to maximize their profits. Salvadorans were promised protection and conversion to Christianity in exchange for free labor. In reality, the practice was highly exploitative and virtually slavery in disguise.
The Events Following the Independence of El Salvador
After a 300-year colonial rule, El Salvador declared independence from Spain in 1821. But, the country wouldn’t call itself a fully autonomous republic yet.
Following the end of colonization, El Salvador was incorporated into the short-lived Mexican Empire, which dissolved two years later. El Salvador then became a member of the newly United Provinces of Central America until 1839.
Once fully independent, El Salvador was plagued by mass inequality, an issue aggravated by the “coffee oligarchy.” By the late 1800s, Las Catorce, or “14 families,” monopolized the best of the country’s land and export earnings.
Instead of growing food for Salvadorans, they exported select crops like coffee and sugar cane for profit while most of the population was impoverished.
Dissatisfaction with the regime grew, especially among the peasants, who demanded better wages, more land, and improved living conditions. However, the Salvadoran military government met any protests against the oligarchy with violence.
During this time, El Salvador entered a particularly dark period. The horrifying events that characterized this chapter in their history included the La Matanza (the slaughter), where 30,000 coffee farmers were killed in a week, a brutal 12-year civil war wiping out 75,000 people, and a repressive 48-year-long military dictatorship.
Characteristics of Modern-Day El Salvador
With an area of 8,124 square miles, El Salvador is the 47th smallest country globally. It’s also the smallest nation in Latin America. Some people call El Salvador Pulgarcito de America (Tom Thumb Of The Americas) because of its diminutive size. But taking a closer look, El Salvador is densely populated, especially in the urban areas where close to half reside.
Regarding ethnicity, most Salvadorians identify as mestizos because of their mixed indigenous and European heritage. Less than 10% of the population is indigenous, mainly composed of the Nahua-Pipil. These figures are in stark contrast to pre-colonial times when the indigenous population was sizeable. Tragically, many died at the hands of colonizers and Salvadoran soldiers.
Despite not being a majority, the Amerindian heritage continues to be acknowledged through culture, customs, and food.
Spanish, adopted during Spain’s colonial reign, is widely spoken and the country’s official language. While some continue to speak other languages, most indigenous dialects have disappeared from society. Efforts to preserve these ancient dialects by the government have been largely unsuccessful.
History and Variation of the Flag of El Salvador
1535 – 1821: El Salvador adopted their first flag, the burgundy cross of the Viceroy of New Spain, as colonial subjects. The flag featured the cross of burgundy against a white background.
The burgundy cross flag, embedded with meaning, represented the rough tree branches where Saint Andrew was crucified.
1821 – 1823: Shortly after gaining independence from Spain, El Salvador and other Central American countries acquired the first Mexican Empire flag. The flag was a vertically striped red-white-green tricolor with a coat of arms featuring an eagle wearing a crown and resting on a cactus.
The design of the Mexican flag has mostly stayed the same for 200 years and bears the same symbolism. The eagle alludes to the Mexican connection to the ancient Aztecs. At the same time, the red, white, and green colors reference The Three Guarantees, a coalition army formed to fight for independence against Spain. The colors stand for hope, union, and the blood of heroes.
1823-1839: The flag of the Federal Republic of Central America, representing modern-day Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, replaced the Mexican Empire flag in 1823. The flag displayed a blue-white-blue horizontal triband with a coat of arms.
1839-1875: When the federation dissolved in 1839, El Salvador created its own national flag with nine alternating blue-and-white stripes and a red box with nine white stars in the upper left corner. Slight variations of this design were made, with five additional stars added to the red box in 1875.
1896-1912: When they joined the Greater Republic of Central America with Nicaragua and Honduras in 1896, the Central American country revised its flag again. This flag had a dark blue-white-dark blue horizontal triband, which included the coat of arms at the center.
Flag of El Salvador: Meaning and Symbolism
El Salvador’s current flag was adopted in 1912 and has remained in place ever since. The flag consists of a blue-white-blue horizontal triband and the El Salvador coat of arms in the middle. The top and bottom blue bands represent the ocean and the sky, while the white middle stripe stands for peace.
Meanwhile, the national coat of arms is fairly detailed. It consists of a yellow triangle depicting a landscape of five green volcanoes rising out of the ocean, a red Phrygian cap above it, and a rainbow at the tip of the triangle.
Outside the triangle are five raised blue flags representing the Federal Republic of Central America states, and beneath them is a scroll that reads “Dios, Unión, Libertad.” This means “God, Union, Liberty.” Surrounding the triangle and flags is a laurel garland, and encircling the entire coat of arms are the words “REPUBLICA DE EL SALVADOR EN LA AMERICA CENTRAL.”
The country also has a civil flag with no coat of arms.
- 10 Countries With Blue and White Bands: All Listed
- The Flag of Nicaragua: History, Meaning, and Symbolism
- Countries That Have Single Colored Flags
The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/bodrumsurf
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- John Beverley, Available here: https://www.jstor.org/stable/466334