The origin of the name is not known for sure, but it is old, predating the Spanish conquest, and is thought to derive from the Nahuatl "Xicuahua", meaning "dry, sandy place".
The city is almost in the centre of the state on the Cuauhtémoc highway. It was only officially founded by Antonio Deza y Ulloa in 1709 (October 12 apparently), following the nearby discovery of silver, as Real de San Francisco de Cuéllar, it was granted town status in 1718 and renamed Felipe el Real de Chihuahua, the settlement was granted city status in 1824. The 'pink' baroque cathedral is the most impressive building dating from that period, other buildings from that era are also grouped around the Plaza de la Constitución (also called the Plaza de Armas). Of more modern construction is the art nouveau museum of Quinta Gameros.
Miguel Hidalgo was held prisoner and executed in the city in 1811. During the French invasion Benito Juárez briefly made the city his seat of government. Pancho Villa lived in Chihuahua, and after his death, his widow turned his mansion into a museum, the Museo de la Revolución although it is also called the Quinta Luz. After her death in 1981, the museum passed into the control of the Mexican army.