In 1659, as Spanish explorers sought a route through the southern Rocky Mountains, the Franciscan Friar García de San Francisco founded Ciudad Juárez as Paso del Norte ("North Pass"). The Misión de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe became the first permanent Spanish development in the area. The Native American population was already located there. The Franciscan friars established a community that grew in importance as commerce between Santa Fe and Chihuahua passed through it. The wood for the bridge across the Rio Grande first came from Santa Fe, New Mexico in the 18th century. The original population of Suma, Jumano and immigrants brought by the Spanish as slaves from Central New Spain grew around the mission. In 1680 during the Pueblo Revolt, some members of the Tigua branch of the Pueblo became refugees from the conflict and a Mission was established for them in Ysleta del Paso del Norte. Other colonial era settlements included Senecú, Real de San Lorenzo, and the Presidio de San José. The population of the entire district reached some 5,000 around 1750, when the Apache attacked the other native towns around the missions. The 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo established the Rio Grande as the border between Mexico and the United States, separating the settlements on the north bank of the river from the rest of the town.
Such settlements were not part of the town at that time; as the military set up its buildings the town grew around it. This would later become El Paso, Texas. From that time until around 1930 populations on both sides of the border could move freely across it. Ciudad Juárez and El Paso are one of the 14 pairs of cross-border town naming along the Mexico–U.S. border.
During the French intervention in Mexico (1862–1867), El Paso del Norte served as a temporary stop for Benito Juárez's republican forces until he established his government-in-exile in Chihuahua. After 1882 the city grew with the arrival of the Mexican Central Railway. Banks, telegraph, telephone, and trams appeared, indicating the city's thriving commerce, in the firm control of the city's oligarchy of the Ochoa, Samaniego, Daguerre, Provencio, and Cuarón families. In 1888, El Paso del Norte was renamed in honor of Juárez.
The city expanded significantly thanks to Díaz's free-trade policy, creating a new retail and service sector along the old Calle del Comercio (now Vicente Guerrero) and 16 September Avenue. A bullring opened in 1899. The Escobar brothers founded the city's first institution of higher education in 1906, the Escuela Particular de Agricultura. That same year, a series of public works are inaugurated, including the city's sewage and drainage system, as well as potable water. A public library, schools, new public market (the old Mercado Cuauhtémoc) and parks dotted the city, making it one of many Porfirian showcases. Modern hotels and restaurants catered to the increased international railroad traffic from the 1880s on.
In 1909, Díaz and William Howard Taft planned a summit in Ciudad Juárez and El Paso, an historic first meeting between a Mexican and a U.S. president, and also the first time a U.S. president would cross the border into Mexico. But tensions rose on both sides of the border over the disputed Chamizal strip connecting Ciudad Juárez to El Paso, even though it would have been considered neutral territory with no flags present during the summit. The Texas Rangers, 4,000 U.S. and Mexican troops, U.S. Secret Service agents, FBI agents and U.S. marshals were all called in to provide security. Frederick Russell Burnham, the celebrated scout, was put in charge of a 250 private security detail hired by John Hays Hammond. On October 16, the day of the summit, Burnham and Private C.R. Moore, a Texas Ranger, discovered a man holding a concealed palm pistol standing at the El Paso Chamber of Commerce building along the procession route. Burnham and Moore captured, disarmed, and arrested the assassin within only a few feet of Díaz and Taft.
The city was Mexico's largest border town by 1910—and as such, it held strategic importance during the Mexican Revolution. In May 1911, about 3,000 revolutionary fighters under the leadership of Francisco Madero laid siege to Ciudad Juárez, which was garrisoned by 500 regular Federal troops under the command of General Juan J Navarro. Navarro's force was supported by 300 civilian auxiliaries and local police. After two days of heavy fighting most of the city had fallen to the insurrectionists and the surviving federal soldiers had withdrawn to their barracks. Navarro then formally surrendered to Madero. The capture of a key border town at an early stage of the revolution not only enabled the revolutionary forces to bring in weapons and supplies from El Paso, but marked the beginning of the end for the demoralized Diaz regime.
During the subsequent years of the conflict, Villa and other revolutionaries struggled for the control of the town (and income from the Federal Customs House), destroying much of the city during battles in 1911 and 1913. Much of the population abandoned the city between 1914 and 1917. Tourism, gambling, and light manufacturing drove the city's recovery from the 1920s until the 1940s. A series of mayors in the 1940s–1960s, like Carlos Villareal and René Mascareñas Miranda, ushered in a period of high growth and development predicated on the PRONAF border industrialization development program. A beautification program spruced up the city center, building a series of arched porticos around the main square, as well as neo-colonial façades for main public buildings such as the city health clinic, the central fire station, and city hall. The Cathedral, built in the 1950s, gave the city center the flavor of central Mexico, with its carved towers and elegant dome, but structural problems required its remodeling in the 1970s. The city's population reached some 400,000 by 1970.
Juárez has grown substantially in recent decades due to a large influx of people moving into the city in search of jobs with the maquiladoras. As of 2014 more technological firms have moved to the city, such as the Delphi Corporation Technical Center, the largest in the Western Hemisphere, which employs over 2,000 engineers. Large slum housing communities called colonias have become extensive.
Juárez has gained further notoriety because of violence and as a major center of narcotics trafficking linked to the powerful Juárez Cartel, and for more than 1000 unsolved murders of young women from 1993 to 2003.
Due to its location in the Chihuahuan Desert and high altitude, Ciudad Juárez has a cold desert climate (Köppen climate BWk). Seasons are distinct, with hot summers, mild springs and autumns, and cold winters. Summer average high is 35 °C (95 °F) with lows of 21 °C (70 °F). Winter highs average 14 °C (57 °F) with lows of 0 °C (32 °F). Rainfall is scarce and greater in summer. Snowfalls occur occasionally (about 4 times a year), between November and March. On 26/27 December 2015, parts of the city received 40 cm (16 in) of snow within a 24-hour period beating the previous record of 28 cm (11 in) set in 1951. The record high is 49 °C (120 °F) and the record low is −23 °C (−9 °F).
Between the 1960s and 1990s, Juárez saw a high level of population growth due in part to the newly established maquiladoras. The end of the Bracero Program also brought workers back from border cities in the U.S. through Ciudad Juárez, contributing to the growing number of citizens.
The average annual growth in population over a 10-year period [1990–2000] was 5.3%. According to the 2010 population census, the city had 1,321,004 inhabitants, while the municipality had 1,332,131 inhabitants. During the last decades the city has received migrants from Mexico's interior, some figures state that 32% of the city's population originate outside the state of Chihuahua, mainly from the states of Durango (9.9%), Coahuila (6.3%), Veracruz (3.7%) and Zacatecas (3.5%), as well as from Mexico City (1.7%). Though most new residents are Mexican, some also immigrate from Central American countries, such as Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.
However, a March 2009 article noted there has been a mass exodus of people who could afford to leave the city due to the ongoing violence from the Mexican Drug War. The article quoted a city planning department estimate of over 116,000 abandoned homes, which could roughly be the equivalent of 400,000 people who have left the city due to the violence. An article in The Guardian in September 2010 says of Ciudad Juárez – "About 10,670 businesses – 40% of the total – have shut down. A study by the city's university found that 116,000 houses have been abandoned and 230,000 people have left."
Ciudad Juárez has many affluent neighborhoods, such as Campestre, Campos Elíseos, and Misión de Los Lagos. Other neighborhoods, including Anapra, Chaveña, and Anáhuac, would be considered more marginal, while the remaining neighborhoods in Juárez represent the middle- to working-class, for example, Infonavit, Las Misiones, Valle de Juárez, Lindavista, Altavista, Guadalajara, Galeana, Flores Magón, Mariano Escobedo, Los Nogales, and Independencia.
The El Paso Regional Economic Development Corporation indicated that Ciudad Juárez is the metropolis absorbing "more new industrial real estate space than any other North American city." The Financial Times Group through its publication The Foreign Direct Investment Magazine ranked Ciudad Juárez as the "City of the Future" for 2007–2008. The El Paso–Juárez area is a major manufacturing center. CommScope, Electrolux, Bosch, Foxconn, Flextronics, Lexmark, Delphi, Visteon, Johnson Controls, Toro, Lear, Boeing, Cardinal Health, Yazaki, Sumitomo, and Siemens are some of the foreign companies that have chosen Ciudad Juárez for their business operations.
The Mexican state of Chihuahua is frequently among the top five states in Mexico with the most foreign investment. Many foreign retail, banking, and fast-food businesses have locations within Juárez.
In the 1990s, traditional brick kilns have made up a big part of the economic informal sector. These were typically located in the poorer regions of Juárez. The kilns used open air fires, where certain materials that were burned generated a lot of air pollution. Along with rapid industrialization, small brick kilns have been a big contributor to the high amount of air pollution in Ciudad Juárez.
The main public transportation system in the city is the Public Bus System. The public buses run the main streets of Cd. Juárez throughout the day, costing seven pesos (less than 40 cents) to ride one. Due the aging current bus fleet being considered potentially outdated, the Municipal Government is working on replacing the buses with new ones, along with improving the bus stops, such as by equipping them with shade.
The ViveBus Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system opened to the public in November 2013 with the first route of five planned. The project was made a reality with the collaboration of the local municipal government, the private enterprise of Integradora de Transporte de Juarez (INTRA) as well as other city government agencies. Studies have shown that the current bus system averages 8 mph (13 km/h) while the new system is projected to average 16 mph (26 km/h). The BRT system studies conducted by the Instituto Municipal de Investigacion Y Planeacion project a daily ridership of 40,000.
The first of the five routes opened to users in late 2013 and is officially named Presidencia-Tierra Nueva and has 34 stations distributed along the north to south corridor. The route starts at Avenida Francisco Villa, follows north to Eje Vial Norte-Sur then veers left at Zaragoza Blvd. and ends at Avenida Independencia and the elevated Carretera Federal 2.
The city is served by Abraham González International Airport, with flights to several Mexican cities. It accommodates national and international air traffic for the city. Nearby El Paso International Airport handles flights to cities within the United States.
The first bridge to cross the Rio Grande at El Paso del Norte was built in the time of New Spain, over 250 years ago, from wood hauled in from Santa Fe. Today, this bridge is honored by the modern Santa Fe Street Bridge, and Santa Fe Street in downtown El Paso.
Several bridges serve the El Paso–Ciudad Juárez area in addition to the Paso Del Norte Bridge also known as the Santa Fe Street Bridge, including the Bridge of the Americas, Stanton Street Bridge, and the Ysleta Bridge also known as the Zaragoza Bridge.
There is also a land crossing at nearby Santa Teresa, New Mexico, and the Fabens–Caseta International Bridge in nearby Fabens, Texas.
According to the latest estimates, the literacy rate in the city is in line with the national average: 97.3% of people above 15 years old are able to read and write.
Juárez has three public and two private universities. The Instituto Tecnológico de Ciudad Juárez (ITCJ), founded in 1964, became the first public institution of higher education in the city. The Autonomous University of Ciudad Juárez (Universidad Autónoma de Ciudad Juárez, UACJ), founded in 1968, is the largest university in the city. It has several locations inside of the city including the Institute of Biomedical Sciences (Instituto de Ciencias Biomédicas, ICB), the Institute of Social and Administrative Sciences (Instituto de Ciencias Sociales y Administrativas, ICSA), the Institute of Architecture, Design and Art (Instituto de Arquitectura, Diseño y Arte, IADA), the Institute of Engineering and Technology (Instituto de Ingeniería y Tecnología, IIT) and the University City (Ciudad Universitaria, CU) located in the southern part of Ciudad Juárez. The IADA and IIT share the same location appearing to be a single institute where the students from both institutes share facilities as buildings or classrooms with the exception of the laboratories of Engineering and the laboratories of Architecture, Design and Arts. The UACJ also has spaces for Fine Arts and Sports.
These latter services are considered among the best because they recluse nearly 30,000 participants in sports such as swimming, racquetball, basketball and gymnastics, and arts such as Classical Ballet, Drama, Modern Dance, Hawaiian and Polynesian Dances, Folk dance, Music and Flamenco. The Faculty of Political and Social Sciences of the Autonomous University of Chihuahua (Universidad Autónoma de Chihuahua, UACH) which has delivered 70% of the city's media and news crew, is located in the city. The local campuses of the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education (ITESM) and the Autonomous University of Durango (UAD) are private universities. The Monterrey Institute of Technology opened its campus in 1983. It is ranked as "third best" among other campuses of the institution, after the Garza Sada campus in Monterrey and the Santa Fe campus in Mexico City.
The city is governed by a municipal president and an eighteen-seat council. The current president is Enrique Serrano Escobar, a member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). Six national parties are represented on the council: the PRI, the National Action Party, Ecologist Green Party of Mexico, Party of the Democratic Revolution, Labor Party and the New Alliance Party.
Violence towards women in the municipality has increased dramatically in the past twenty years. Since the early 1990s, approximately 370 girls and women have been murdered and at least 400 women have been reported missing. Escalating turf wars between the rival Juárez and Sinaloa Cartels led to increasingly brutal violence in the city beginning in 2007.
The Juárez police department had approximately 800 officers dismissed in an effort to clean up corruption within its ranks. Recruitment goals set by the department called for the force to more than double. In 2009, a vigilante group calling itself Juárez Citizens Command threatened to take action to attempt to put a stop to all the perpetrators of violence if the government continued to fail to curb the violence in the city. Government officials expressed concern that such vigilantism would contribute to further instability and violence.
In 2008, General Moreno and the Third Infantry Company took over the fight against the cartels in town. They were removed in 2009, with the general and 29 of his associates now in custody and awaiting trial for charges of murder and civil rights violations.
In response to increasing violence in the city, the presence of the Mexican Armed Forces and Federal Police has almost doubled. As of March 2009, at least 4500 soldiers and federal police were in the city to curtail mostly drug cartel related violence. By August 2009 there were more than 7500 soldiers augmented by an expanded and highly restaffed municipal police force.
As of January 2013, Juárez's murder rate placed #37 of the highest reported in the world at 38 murders per 100,000 inhabitants. This marked a decrease of 70% compared to 2008 when the rate was 130 murders per 100,000 inhabitants and represented #1 in the statistic and exceeded second-place Caracas' statistic of 96 murders per 100,000 inhabitants by 35% for the same period. Journalist Charles Bowden, in an August 2008 GQ article, wrote that multiple factors, including drug violence, government corruption and poverty led to a dispirited and disorderly atmosphere that permeated the city.
After the homicide rates escalated to the point of making Ciudad Juárez the most violent city in the world, the city has seen a significant and steady decline in violent crime. In 2012, homicides were at their lowest rate since 2007 when drug violence flared between the Sinaloa and Juárez Cartel. That trend has continued in 2015 with 300 homicides reported, the lowest number since 2006. Explanations for the rapid decline in violence include the success of the Sinaloa Cartel in defeating its rivals, as well as federal, state and local government efforts to combat crime and improve the city's quality of life.
Although, there are no clear reasons why crime was reduced, there are theories. For example, some say that gangs or cartels were behind the new peace. Others think it is possible that much of the violence stopped because the cartel war between Juárez and Sinaloa ended. Something else that may have contributed to the new-found peace is that many policemen with cartel ties were either arrested or dismissed. In addition, A group of local leaders called "La Mesa de Seguridad y Justicia" came together to figure out how to stop crime. The group is a liaison between government and citizens and it allows people to talk about safety concerns. Also, many companies were being extorted, so an anti-extortion squad was created to combat extortion. The city's efforts to combat crime worked as, crime was significantly reduced from 2010 to 2014, with 3,500 homicides in 2010 and 430 in 2014. In 2015, there were only 311 homicides.
Crime reduction has inspired more business in the city. Some citizens left because of the violence but have since returned with their families. Many of those people had moved their businesses to El Paso. In addition, U.S companies are investing more in Juárez.
Community centers work with victims of crime and teach women how to defend themselves. Citizens have also taken it upon themselves to form neighborhood watch groups and patrol neighborhoods. "La Fundacion Comunitaria de la Frontera Norte" is giving young people career opportunities and giving people hope. In addition, city officials have said that they have plans to increase tourism in the city. For example, in April 2015, the city created a new campaign to increase tourism called "Juarez is waiting for you". That same month, U.S representative Roberto O'Rourke visited Juarez to give a speech about how much Juarez has changed in a positive way. A children's museum was opened in honor of the children who lost their parents during the violent years. Businesses that were closed because of the violence and extortion have reopened in recent years. The city of Juarez was depicted in the movie Sicario, and the city was upset because the movie does not reflect the efforts that have been made to reduce crime.
Juárez has five local newspapers: El Diario, El Norte, El Mexicano, El PM and Hoy.
There are 16 over the air television stations broadcasting in the Ciudad Juarez - El Paso area. Including subchannels there are 33 different channels.
There are three paid television signals available and 24 radio station signals in AM and 21 in FM.
The city of Juárez plays a central part in Bob Dylan's song "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues", which describe a nightmare vision of the narrator's experience in Juárez, in which he encounters sickness, despair, prostitutes, saints, shady women, corrupt authorities, alcohol and drugs, before finally deciding to return to New York City.
The Juárez femicides are the subject of post-hardcore band At the Drive-In's song "Invalid Litter Dept." from its 2000 album Relationship of Command.
Part of the action of the 2015 film Sicario is set in Juárez.
Ciudad Juárez is the inspiration for the fictional city of Santa Teresa featured in the novel "2666" by Roberto Bolaño.