During the age of discovery, Spain began to settle the North and South American mainlands and the Caribbean islands and conquistadors soon toppled native empires such as the Aztecs and Incas on mainland South America. Isolated in the new world, with Native Americans all around them, the colonists did not know where or how to build communities in which to live. To assist in the establishment of presidios (military towns), missions, and pueblos (civilian towns), King Phillip II developed the laws of the indies, a comprehensive guide comprising of 148 ordinances to aid colonists in locating, building, and populating settlements. The last revision of the Law of the Indies was signed in 1573 which codified the city planning process and represented some of the first attempts at a general plan. The Laws of the Indies were a body of laws issued by the Spanish crown concerning the regulation of social, political and economic life in its overseas possessions. They evolved from a multitude of decrees issued over several centuries and important 16th century legislation such as the Laws of Burgos (1512) enacted by King Ferdinand II of Aragon, which were meant to ensure the welfare of conquered peoples. The Laws of Burgos were later revised by the New Laws of 1542 issued by King Charles I, and subsequently revised again in 1552 after Bartolome de Las Casas brought attention to abuses being carried out by encomenderos.
The importance of these Laws from the standpoint of an urban designer is that they represent the first comprehensive set of development laws in the New World. As former Spanish colonies were acquired by the United States, the Laws of the Indies greatly influenced subsequent development laws most notably the 1785 Land Ordinance. Further posts will deal with specific laws guiding development of new settlements.
Translated Laws of the Indies