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The History of Santiago, Chile

Santiago was founded on February 12, 1541 by Spanish explorer and conquistador Pedro de Valdivia. The region had been explored before, but found to be harsh, unforgiving and full of warlike natives, so settlement was slow in coming.

During the early years, settlers faced the dangers of starvation, earthquakes and floods as well as regular raids by the natives. The city survived, however, and flourished during the colonial era. Some of the city's most interesting architecture dates from the Spanish colonial period. The city, which was answerable to the Viceroy of Peru in Lima, had an economy based on livestock and agriculture, although later mining would become important.

After France invaded Spain in 1808, Santiago became the center of the Chilean independence movement. Different governors tried to discourage dissent, but once the movement had begun it was impossible to stop. After the royalists lost the decisive Battle of Chacabuco in 1817 not far from Santiago, Chilean Independence became a fact and Santiago was named the capital.

The city was well-managed as it grew, with places set aside for parks and universities. During the early Republican years, Chile earned a reputation as a relatively stable place and Santiago became a magnet for political refugees from other South American countries. At the end of the nineteenth century, the country experienced an economic boom due to nitrate mining. The newly-wealthy Chileans built buildings with their money, and some fine Santiago architecture dates from this period.

In the twentieth century the city industrialized, and factory work attracted men and women from all over the nation and abroad, causing the city to swell. It would eventually become one of the most important commercial, industrial and transportation hubs of South America.

For a long time, Chile retained its reputation as a relatively peaceful, safe place to live: exceptions include the War of the Pacific (1879-1884) and the 1891 civil war under President Balmaceda. This image of a peaceful nation was shattered on September 11, 1973, when President Salvador Allende was ousted by a military coup led by General Augusto Pinochet. Allende himself barricaded himself in the Presidential Palace to fight off the soldiers and eventually killed himself rather than relinquish power peacefully.

In the ensuing years, Pinochet relentlessly pursued “insurgents” real and imaginary at home and abroad. Thousands of innocent Chilean citizens were arrested and many of them were executed without any judicial process and Santiago suffered disproportionately. With the end of the Pinochet regime and military rule, peace has returned to Santiago, although it still struggles to cope with the recent past.

By Christopher Minster
I am a writer and editor at V!VA Travel guides here in Quito, where I specialize in adding quality content to the site and also in spooky things like...
21 Sep 2009

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