This chapter examines the colonial and nineteenth century heritage of modern urbanisation in Latin America. In 1979 the Population Reference Bureau calculated that the number of people living in urban areas in the Latin American world region was equivalent to 61 per cent of the total population. This figure hides significant regional variations. In contrast to the gradual evolution of the North American urban system over three centuries, the Latin American urban system was largely created in less than a century. The sixteenth century was characterised by the vitality of urbanisation in Spanish America. After the sixteenth century, the urban system in Spanish America virtually stagnated for more than two centuries. The development of urban areas in Brazil contrasts with that of Spanish America due to the less rigid system of Portuguese state control and the development of the plantation as the major nucleus of settlement.