Belmopan is the new (since 1970) capital of Belize, the former British Honduras and the northernmost of the six countries of Central America. It is located near the nation's center, about 50 miles (80 km) inland from the old capital Belize City. The population of Belmopan is about 20,000, making it one of the smallest capital cities in the world. The name of the city comes from the Belize River and the Mopan River, two rivers that Belmopan is near to.
Belmopan came into being after Hurricane Hattie destroyed low-lying, coastal Belize City in late October 1961. A decision was made to move the capital inland where it would be safer from Caribbean storms and closer to the center of the country. As Belize was at the time a colony of the United Kingdom called British Honduras, permission and funding for the project were obtained in London. Mr. Anthony Greenwood, the British Secretary of State for the Commonwealth and Colonies, visited British Honduras in 1965 and dedicated a monument on October 9 of that year at the side of a highway where the new city would be built. Construction work began in 1967 and the capital was officially opened in 1970. Construction still continues, as Belmopan is a work in progress. The United States Embassy in Belmopan opened in December 2006.
The center of Belmopan is Independence Plaza. The main landmark of Belmopan is the new National Assembly Building. Yim Sang is a 12-story hotel, the tallest building in Belmopan. There is a new bus terminal and central market, both of which date to 2003. Guanacaste Park is a beautiful nature preserve outside the city.
Most residents of Belmopan are connected to national government work. Belize City, with a population of about 80,000, is still the largest and most cosmopolitan of the country's settlements. It is only about one hour drive away, so the two cities are closely interconnected. Commuters travel from residences in Belize City to work in Belmopan. There are plans for developing an industrial zone in Belmopan. The population of Belize and Belmopan specifically is a mix of races including people of European descent, Africans, indigenous Americans (particularly Mayans), and Asians. English is the official language, although Spanish and local languages are spoken as well. The use of Spanish has been increasing recently with stepped-up migration from neighboring countries in Central America. Approximately 80 percent of the population is Christian, with Roman Catholics being the largest denomination.
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