Neuquén (Spanish pronunciation: [neuˈken]) is the capital city of the Argentineprovince of Neuquén, located in the east of the province, at the confluence of the Limay and Neuquén rivers. The city has a population of more than 265,000, making it the largest city in Patagonia.
Neuquén is both an important agricultural center, surrounded by fertile lands irrigated by the waters of the Limay and Neuquén rivers in an otherwise arid province, and a petrochemical industrial center that receives oil extracted from different points of the province. It belongs economically and geographically to the Alto Valle region that produces apples, pears, and other fruits.
With the discovery of the Vaca Muerta oil fields west of the city (3rd largest shale gas & oil reserves in the world), it has begun to experience a boom in real estate and construction. It is expected that over the next few years the city will experience unprecedented growth as it is the only significant city in the region (it has an airport, shopping centers, office space and institutions to become the center of the operations not only of the oil & gas companies, but also their suppliers)
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In 1885, the lands of what was at that time called Confluencia (i.e., "confluence," referring to the two rivers) were auctioned to a few people. Shortly after the Conquest of the Desert campaign conducted by the military over Patagonia, the Mapuche and Tehuelche tribes that inhabited the province of Neuquén were either killed or pushed out of these lands.
Since there was no defined border with Chile, the Argentine government reached an agreement with the British-ownedBuenos Aires Great Southern Railway company that was constructing a railway network, mainly in Buenos Aires Province, to build an extension to the town in exchange for lands, in order to populate it. In 1899, the railroad reached Cipolletti inRío Negro province, and three years later, after the construction of the bridge, arrived at Neuquén.
Neuquén was officially founded on September 12, 1904, and the capital of the territory was transferred from Chos Malal to the young town. The name "Neuquén" derives from the Mapudungun word nehuenken, meaning drafty, which the native people used in reference to this river.
By 1930, the town had only 5,000 inhabitants. In the 1960s, it acquired a new importance when oil deposits were found in the province by the state company YPF. The 1970s and 1980s saw massive demographic growth, accompanied by improvements such as the creation of the National University of Comahue in 1971.
The Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, designed by Mario Roberto Alvarez, opened in 2004. The museum showcases both national and international artists. The building consists of four halls which include both the temporary and the permanent collection, as well as an auditorium and theater.