La Paz, Bolivia, the nation's executive and legislative capital, the largest city in Bolivia, and the capital of La Paz department. It lies in a deep valley on the Altiplano, a lofty plateau in the Andes. The city is situated at an elevation of almost 12,000 feet (3,660 m)—higher than any other large city in the world. Behind La Paz rises the Cordillera Real range and the snowcapped summit of Illimani, which reaches 21,201 feet (6,462 m) above sea level. The climate is cool and relatively dry.
La Paz is Bolivia's leading industrial and commercial center. The chief industrial activities are food processing and the production of light manufactured items, such as textiles, leather products, and other consumer goods. Government employs substantial numbers of workers. La Paz is linked by highways and railways with other cities in Bolivia and with ports in Chile and Peru. A branch of the Pan American Highway passes through La Paz. There is an international airport high above the city on the Altiplano.
The traditional center of the city is the Plaza Murillo, located in the main business district. Facing the plaza and its formal gardens are the cathedral, the presidential palace, the national congress building, and the national art museum. Bolivia's largest university, the University of San Andrés, is in La Paz.
La Paz was founded by Spaniards in 1548 on the site of an Aymará Indian village. The settlement served as a way station on the road between Lima, capital of the vice-royalty of Peru, and the rich silver mines at Potosí. The city was made a bishopric in 1605. During the 18th and 19th centuries, La Paz was a rather small commercial center and a supply point for mining operations in Bolivia. The city's population was only about 12,000 early in the 20th century. Virtually all of La Paz's growth has come with the building of modern transportation facilities in Bolivia during the 20th century, and with the migration of many Indians to the city in search of a better life.