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History of the Lakes District

When the glaciers retreated from the Lakes District, humans were already here. The oldest human community in the Americas, dating to 12,500 years ago, was at Monte Verde, near Puerto Montt. Later, the region from Río Bío Bío to Río Cruces and extending into the pampas of modern-day Argentina was ruled by the powerful Mapuche-Huilliche nation. Many modern-day villages, like Licán Ray, Curarrehue and Curacautín date from this indigenous nation’s reign.


The Spaniards arrived in the mid-16th Century and attempted to found several cities, including Valdivia (1552) and Temuco (1553). These ports were provisioning stops on the long run around South America. The region was also prized for hardwoods and gold. Colonists were sent inland as far as Lago Puyehue. But the Spaniards could not conquer the Mapuche who rose up against the invaders. By 1605 all the new cities were abandoned. The Europeans fled northward to the Central Valley and south to Chiloé.


Pirates and seafarers also recognized the value of this coast’s sheltered coves for restocking provisions and repairing ships. The Dutch occupied Valdivia’s ruins in 1643. This drove the Spaniards to recover their Perla del Sur. A hundred years later, after constructing an elaborate fortress network against the Mapuch-Huilliche “internal enemy,” Valdivia was recovered. Osorno was retaken in 1792. The following year the Tratado de las Canoas treaty was signed with the Huilliche. The Spaniards began once more to push inland, looking for the mythical City of Caesars and the very real gold around Puyehue and Ranco Lakes.


The final conquest of the Lakes District, though, didn’t come until after independent Chile’s birth. The Ley de Colonización (Colonization Law, 1845) encouraged immigration to the region. Thousands of Germans came, founding new villages, like Puerto Montt and those around Lago Llanquihue, and industries. This district’s architecture and gastronomy yet evidence their influence. From 1860 to 1881, the Chilean government declared war against the Mapuche with the Pacificación de la Araucania campaign, which ended the treaty of Cerro Ñielol (Osorno, 1881). The railroad arrived at Osorno in 1895 and finally reached Puerto Montt in 1913. This increased the region’s economic importance. More immigrants came from around the world.


All came to a shattering halt on May 22, 1960, when the largest earthquake in recorded history and the resultant tsunami destroyed the region. Almost a half-century later, these cities have recovered their glory and once more play an important role in Chile’s economy.

Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to The Lake District: The Day the Earth Moved,

By Lorraine Caputo

Upon re-declaring her independence at age 29, Lorraine Caputo packed her trusty Rocinante (so her knapsack's called) and began...

22 Jun 2009

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