The restored Mayan ruins of Copán in the west, first discovered by the Spaniards in 1576 and rediscovered in dense jungle in 1839, reflect the great Mayan culture that arose in the 4th century. It had declined when Columbus sighted the region in 1502, naming it Honduras, meaning “depths”, for the deep water off the coast. Hernán Cortés arrived in 1524 and ordered Pedro de Alvarado to found settlements along the coast. Comayagua and Tegucigalpa developed as early mining centers. In a war (1537-38) between Spain and the indigenous population, Spain crushed the resistance after the death of the native leader, Lempira.
In 1821, Honduras gained independence from Spain and became part of Iturbide's Mexican Empire; from 1825 to 1838 it was a member of the Central American Federation. Thereafter, conservative and liberal factions fought bloody wars to control the republic, and Honduras was subjected to frequent interference from its Central American neighbors. Great Britain long controlled the Mosquito Coast and the Islas de la Bahía; William Walker attempted “liberation” in 1860. Although Honduras often sought to reestablish Central American unity, the attempts were frustrated by political and personal a
25 million in bribes from the United Brands Company. Figures cited by the Ministry of Education suggest that Honduras suffers from widespread illiteracy (more than 40 percent of the total population and more than 80 percent in rural areas). The country's economy became heavily dependent on aid from the United States, which supported the rebel bases.