Tampa is located on the west coast of Florida on Tampa Bay, near the gulf of Mexico. It was explored by Spanish explorers in the 16th century, ultimately wiping out the original native cultures over the next few decades due to violence and disease. While Spain claimed Florida as part of New Spain, it did not found a colony in the Tampa area, and there were no permanent American or European settlements within today's city limits until after the United States had acquired Florida from Spain in 1890. The city of Tampa was first incorporated in 1849, growing slowly until the 1880s when railroad links, the discovery of phosphate, and the arrival of the cigar industry jump-started its development, helping it to grow from a quiet village of less than 800 residents in 1880 to a bustling city of over 30,000 by the early 1900s.
Tampa is part of the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, Florida Metropolitan area. The four county area is composed of roughly 2.9 million residents, and the greater Tampa Bay area has over 4 million residents. Tampa was ranked as the 5th best outdoor city by Forbes in 2008, and also the 5th most popular city based on where people want to live, based on a 2009 Pew Research Center study.
Perhaps the most well known and anticipated event in the Tampa area is the annual celebration of "Gasparilla", particularly the Gasparilla Pirate Festival, a mock pirate invasion held since 1904 in late January or early February. Often referred to as Tampa's "Mardi Gras", the invasion flotilla led by the pirate ship, Jose Gasparilla, and subsequent parade draw over 400,000 attendees, contributing tens of millions of dollars to the city's economy. Beyond the initial invasion, numerous Gasparilla festivities take place each year between January and March, including the Gasparilla Children's Parade, the more adult-oriented Sant'Yago Knight Parade, the Gasparilla Distance Classic, Gasparilla Festival of the Arts, and the Gasparilla International Film Festival, among other pirate themed events.