Maracaibo was founded on the western side of Lake Maracaibo which is the dominant feature of the oil-rich Maracaibo Basin. Favored by prevailing winds and a protected harbor the city is located on the shores of the lake where the narrows, which eventually lead to the Gulf of Venezuela, first become pronounced.
During the city's first 390 years or so Maracaibo remained isolated and separated from the rest of the country. Land transportation was only possible across the lake by ferry or other marine transport.
Cars, buses, and trucks, with their constant flow of manufactured goods and agricultural product, depended on the ferry system between the city and the eastern shore with their roads to connect to the country's highway system.
This isolation was both a challenge and an advantage. The very nature of the city's location made for a population known for independent thought and character. The History of this region is plagued with stories about the creation of an independent and sovereign nation apart from the rest of the country (Venezuela), a Nation called "La República Independiente del Zulia" which means The Independent Republic of Zulia but this has never come to be. Nevertheless, in the minds and hearts of many; this far away dream is a long-lived desire.
The separation from Caracas, the seat of national government, created a liberty of thought and character for the "Maracucho" (those that called Maracaibo their home). This characteristic of scrutiny and suspect of "national decision" served the city well. Even in today's connected world the national government's decisions are a bit more suspect and debated by Maracaibo 's citizens than in the rest of the country. A protective watchdog attitude remains today by this "independent" population.
The dictatorial regime of General Marcos Pérez Jiménez of the 1950s set as a goal the construction of a bridge connecting the two lakeshores. Various bridge projects for the spanning of the Lake Maracaibo narrows near the city were in the works. The General's government had decided that this "city of independent thought" should be more "connected" to the rest of the country.
Proposals for a bridge design that included rail transport and tourist facilities were seriously considered. The fall of the Pérez Jiménez government in January 1958 quickly led to a less elaborate design project that was approved and funded by a democratic and more conservative government.
The building of the "El Puente Sobre El Lago de Maracaibo General Rafael Urdaneta" (General Rafael Urdaneta Bridge over Lake Maracaibo) named after the distinguished hero of the War of Independence was opened to public traffic in 1962. The project was completed on schedule in 40 months.
This bridge construction project was a remarkable feat. Built under very difficult conditions, when completed, it became the longest prestressed concrete bridge in the world. The structure is in constant use and remains today as the most important link between Maracaibo , along with much of the State of Zulia, and the rest of Venezuela.
Maracaibo is nicknamed La Tierra del Sol Amada ("The Land that the Sun Loves").
François de Pons, the agent of the French government to Caracas, provides some historical insight into the people of Maracaibo in his travel journal (de Pons 1806). The following excerpts describe the local population of Maracaibo.
They perform coasting, or long voyages, with equal facility; and when all trade is suspended by the operations of war, they enter privateers. Bred up in the neighborhood of the lake, they are mostly all expert swimmers and excellent divers. Their reputation stands equally high as soldiers. Those who do not enter into the sea service, form plantations, or assist in cultivating those, which belong to their fathers. Nothing proves better their aptitude for this kind of occupation, than the immense flocks of cattle with which the savannas of Maracaibo are covered.
He also notes the appreciation of literature, the arts, education, and culture among the people of Maracaibo :
But what confers the greatest honor on the inhabitants of Maracaibo, is their application to literature; in which, notwithstanding the wretched state of public education, they make considerable progress....They likewise acquired the art of elocution, and of writing their mother tongue with the greatest purity; in a word, they possessed all the qualities which characterize men of letters.
During the period of de Pons's visit, however, he believed the people of Maracaibo to lack integrity with regard to honoring their commitments:
After allowing that the inhabitants of this city possess activity, genius, and courage, we have nothing further to say in their praise. They are accused of violating their promises, and even of attempting to break through written engagements. Their character, in this respect, is so notorious, that every stranger whom business induces to visit Maracaibo, affirms, that it would be much better to enter into commercial speculations with the women, because they appear alone to possess that sincerity and good sense which are every where else considered as belonging particularly to men.
Maracaibo has become a big metropolitan city, compromised in two Municipalities: to the North the Municipality of Maracaibo and to the South the San Francisco Municipality (Established in 1995). In the recent years due to political/economic and cultural reasons many have moved to Maracaibo from rural areas and other cities (including Caracas). Many consider Maracaibo to be have all the good things Caracas has (Education, Night clubs, Healthcare) without the drawbacks (traffic, pollution, crime, garbage); nevertheless, the inhabitants of the city are more prone to kidnapping due to the closeness to Colombia's border.
In the political arena, the citizens of Maracaibo (and most other cities and municipalities in the Zulia state) have since recent years voted for a competitive political system in where the Governor is from a certain political party and the mayor or mayors are from the opposite political party. This system has brought many good things to the city and the state; for example, if the Governor builds a bridge the mayor of said municipality builds two, if a mayor cleans a public park the Governor retaliates by cleaning and remodeling another one. Currently the State Governor is Manuel Rosales from the Un Nuevo Tiempo (A new time) party whereas the Mayor of Maracaibo Giancarlo Di Martino is from the V Republic Movement both parties are their opposite in Venezuelan politics; in the past the Governor of the state was Francisco Arias Cardenas from the V Republic Movement and the Mayor of Maracaibo the current Governor Manuel Rosales.
Maracaibo also boasts one of the best Universities in the country, the state university " La Universidad del Zulia LUZ" (Zulia state university) is well renowned by its excellent Law school and Medical school. Other major Universities and schools include Universidad Rafael Belloso Chacin (URBE) with its excellent engineering school and Universidad Rafael Urdaneta with one of the country's leading Psychology schools.
Culture in Maracaibo is very indigenous and autoctonic, its culture is recognized in every state and city in Venezuela and it's very influential with its Gaitas, desserts, style, living, and customs. Most major houses of Advertising in Venezuela acknowledge how opposite the culture of Maracaibo is to the culture of Caracas, studies of both prove that if for example Caracas leading softdrink brand is Coke in Maracaibo Pepsi is the leading brand this has made many brands create special localized advertising of their products (including several Pepsi commercials spoken by local celebrities).
Maracuchos (and most of the inhabitants of Zulia state) are known to be the only users of the word "vos" when referring to others, alike of Argentinians; in the rest of the country the word "Tu" or "Usted" is used, this has led Maracuchos to be recognized mostly anywhere by their rough accent. In Maracaibo the word "verga" is used very frequently usually referring to anything, everything, everybody and nobody. For example: " Como esta la verga?" (How is everything) is used instead of " Como esta todo?", "La verga esa" (That thing) instead of "La cosa esa", "El vergo ese" (That guy) instead of "El tipo ese". In many other parts of the country this special word is considered offensive and vulgar, to the point that it cannot be said in any of it's derivatives in Mass Media; but within the city it's considered normal and proper of the “Maracucho” dialect.
Estado Zulia is one of Venezuela's 23 states (estados). The state capital is Maracaibo. The state covers a total surface area of 63 100 km² and, in 2001, had an estimated population of 2.983.679. It is located in the northwestern part of the country.
Lake Maracaibo , the largest lake in South America, lies within Zulia. The Lake Maracaibo Basin covers one of the largest oil and gas reserves in this hemisphere, bringing enormous wealth to the country. A long and mostly uninhabited border separates Venezuela from Colombia to the north and west from the Guajira Peninsula to the mountains of Perija. Venezuela's Andean states of Táchira, Mérida and Trujillo border Zulia State at the Southern end of Lake Maracaibo and finally the states of Lara and Falcón complete the boundaries of Zulia.
The name Venezuela also comes from the Lake Maracaibo area. Spanish Conquistadors sailing into this area found the indigenous peoples living in communities of huts supported by stilts along the shores of the Lake over 500 years ago and promptly named this new territory "Little Venice" or Venezuela ; other historians believe Venezuela doesn't mean "Little Venice" but a despective way of Venice, just like "mujerzuela" (hooker) comes from joining "Mujer" (women) and the "zuela" suffix.