Mérida, officially known as Santiago de los Caballeros de Mérida, is the capital of the municipality of Libertador and the state of Mérida, and is one of the principal cities of the Venezuelan Andes. It was founded in 1558 by Captain Juan Rodríguez Suárez, forming part of Nueva Granada, but later became part of the Captaincy General of Venezuela and played an active role in the War of Independence.
The capital city's population is 204,879 inhabitants, and the metropolitan area, that includes the municipality of Libertador, reaches 345,489 people (Census 2001). The city accounts for 28% of the total population of Mérida State, which has more than 750,000 inhabitants (Census 2001). It is home to the University of Los Andes and the Archdiocese of Mérida. It also has the highest and longest cable car in the world. It is the largest student and tourist center of western Venezuela. The mass transit system (Trolebús Mérida) is available as a means of tourist transport. This city sits on a tableland nestled in the valley of the Chama River, which runs from end to end. The town of Mérida is located at an altitude of 1,600 metres (5,200 feet). As background on the horizon rises the country's highest summit: the Pico Bolívar with an altitude of 4,981 metres (16,342 feet). Mérida was founded by Juan Rodríguez Suárez on October 9, 1558 in one of the Pamplonian mining expeditions he led.