Founded in 1596 by Don Diego de Montemayor, Monterrey was named for the Viceroy of New Spain. Don Gaspar de Zuñiga y Acevedo, Count of Monterrey. Real development began in the 18th century, when El Obispado, or the Bishop's Palace -- initially built as a place of retirement for Catholic bishops -- became the seat of the religious diocese.

Capital of the state of Nuevo León, this is México's third largest metropolis and its most dynamic industrial powerhouse. Numerous factories produce transportation equipment, electrical appliances, cement, steel, chemicals, clothing, beer, cut glass and many other products. Industrialization has also made the city an important point of commerce with the United States. Monterrey's business muscle is exemplified by the Centro Internacional de Negocios (CINTERMEX, International Business Center), said to be the largest trade and convention center in Latin America.

Passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in the early 1990s added further economic impetus to an already-healthy industrial environment. Multinational corporations, drawn by the availability of cheap Mexican labor meant jobs for Mexican workers, and maquiladoras sprang up here and in the border cities. Real prosperity, however, is a fact of life for only a small -- although growing -- percentage of the population.

The "Sultana del Norte" or Sultan of the North (an affectionate nickname owing to industrial prominence) is by no means laid-back; well over two million people live here. México's class juxtapositions are strongly evident, as terrible poverty exists side by side with remarkable wealth. Some 150 miles south of the United States-México border -- a mere three hours by car -- Monterrey is a favored weekend destination for nearby Texans, although its sheer size and frenetic pace can be daunting to the casual visitor. The lack of touristic charm, however, is compensated for by a palpable sense of progress.

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