Given the historic role of cities in Latin America as an instrument for appropriating territory and for ordering society, one may wonder why more attention is not paid to the Latin Americans' own vision of the city. We are sometimes asked to believe that only in the 1940s did the urban phenomenon loom in their world and that our knowledge of it comes from foreign demographers and anthropologists. Colonial sources like Solórzano and the Recopilación, however, demonstrate that the IberoCatholic political tradition gives central importance to the organizational and paradigmatic functions of the urban unit. After independence, to be sure, this tradition was eclipsed by the ‘ruralization’ of Latin American societies as urban, bureaucratic structures decayed and power flowed to the agrarian domain. At this time also, intellectual horizons opened to offer release from scholastic constraints, encouraging the intelligentsia to make eclectic, sometimes euphoric assessments of their new nations' future potential. Of these pensadores Sarmiento almost alone dealt directly with the city's role in nation building. Yet his very plea that the city — whether Buenos Aires or a new ‘Argirópolis’ — assume ‘modernizing’ or ‘developmental‘functions reverts to the old Mediterranean notion that the city (civitas) is one with ‘civilization’. For this Alberdi attacked him, reminding Sarmiento that in Argentina town and country, civilization and barbarism, were not disjoined but fused in a single society and polity.