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The Spanish missions in California comprise a series of 21 religious outposts or missions established between 1769 and 1833 in today's U.S. State of California. Founded by Catholic priests of the Franciscan order to evangelize the Native Americans, the missions led to the creation of the New Spain province of Alta California and were part of the expansion of the Spanish Empire into the most northern and western parts of Spanish North America. Following long-term secular and religious policy of Spain in Latin America, the missionaries forced the native Californians to live in settlements called reductions, disrupting their traditional way of life. The missionaries introduced European fruits, vegetables, cattle, horses, ranching, and technology. The missions have been accused by critics, then and now, of various abuses and oppression. In the end, the missions had mixed results in their objectives: to convert, educate, and transform the natives into Spanish colonial citizens. In 1821, Mexico achieved independence from Spain, taking Alta California along with it, but the missions maintained authority over native neophytes and control of land holdings until the 1830s. At the peak of its development in 1832, the coastal mission system controlled an area equal to approximately one-sixth of Alta California. The Alta California government secularized the missions after the passage of the Mexican secularization act of 1833. This divided the mission lands into land grants, which became many of the Ranchos of California. The surviving mission buildings are the state's oldest structures, and its most-visited historic monuments. They have become a symbol of California, appearing in many movies and television shows, and are an inspiration for Mission Revival architecture. The oldest cities of California formed around or near Spanish missions, including the four largest: Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, and San Francisco.