In ancient times, Venezuela was paradise for the Indians who lived on its beaches, in its tropical forests, and on the gentle grassland of theven04.jpg (20686 bytes) llanos. There were three main groups: the Carib, Arawak, and the Chibcha. They lived in small groups and all of them practiced some degree of farming; the land, however, was bountiful enough so that this was not always a necessity. They could easily hunt, fish for, and gather their food. The most advanced of the three were the Chibcha who lived on the eastern slopes of the Andes. Though they never developed large cities, their agricultural skill were formidable: they terraced parts of the Andes and built sophisticated irrigation channels to water their crops.
Christopher Columbus was the first European to visit Venezuela. He came in 1498 during his third voyage to the New World, and landed on the Peninsula de Paria. Following the coast, he explored the Rio Orinoco Delta and concluded that he had found much more than another Caribbean island. More explorers came a year later, and it was Alonso de Ojeda who gave the country its name. Arriving at Lake Maracaibo, he admired the stilted houses that the Indians had build above the lake and called the place Venezuela - "Little Venice." A year after that the Spanish established their first settlement, Nueva Cadiz, which was later destroyed by a tsunami. Early colonization in Venezuela was much less rampant than it was in other parts of South America, and the colony was ruled with a loose hand from Bogota. It was much less important to the Spanish than the mineral-producing colonies of Western South America, but Venezuela would later surprise the world when massive oil reserves would be discovered.
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