Of all the cities in the south of Chile, Valdivia is one of the most beautiful and fascinating. Its history is multi-faceted, from Spanish colonization and Mapuche victories to Spanish reconquest. The German immigrants' impression left a deep cultural and economic mark on the city. The arts flourish, as do sports. Nature reserves drape the banks of the multitudinous rivers that meet here, in this Ciudad de los RĂos.
Valdivia is the capital of the new XIV RegiĂłn de los RĂos, formed in 2007. The area is aptly named for the many rivers weaving from the Andes. The Cruces, Cau-Cau-Cau, Calle-Calle and others all merge at Valdivia to form the RĂo Valdivia, which flows down to BahĂa de Corral and the Pacific Ocean. This is Chile's most navigable area, with 250 kilometers (150 mi) of rivers, plus the BahĂa de Corral to explore in tour boats or your own private yacht. Every day sculls ply the RĂo Valdivia. Most of Chile's top sport rowers come from Valdivia's three rowing clubs. The river basin is scattered with islands, amongst them Isla Teja, onto which Valdivia sprawls, Gucamayo, Isla de Rey, Hupi and Mancera.
Spanish fortresses deck the banks and isles along the river. These were key in the colonizers' reconquest of the region. The first Valdivia settlement was built 18 kilometers (11 mi) upriver from the Pacific Ocean in 1552 and became their Perla del Sur, the Southern Pearl. It was an important stop for Spanish fleets rounding the tip of South American, hauling riches from port to port and back to the motherland. The delight of the Spaniards was further heightened by the timber and gold found in the region. But their presence was not welcomed. The indigenous Mapuche who lived in these lands continually attacked the city. Even the Valdiviano's construction of the fortress Fuerte de la SantĂsima Trinidad in 1602 could not protect them. Two years later, the Mapuche succeeded in driving the invaders out and recuperating their territory. The Spanish colonists fled for the Central Valley or to ChiloĂ©.
Valdivia would have probably become just one more abandoned town to molder into the damp landscape, if the Dutch had not stumbled upon the ruins in 1643. This provoked the Spanish crown to recapture the city and lay claim to it once more. Peruvian Viceroy Pedro de Toledo y Leiva, Marquis de Mancera gave the order for Valdivia's reconquista. In 1645 an elaborate plan moved forward. First, on Isla Mancera where RĂo Valdivia flows into BahĂa de Corral, El Castillo San Pedro de AlcĂˇntara de la Isla de Mancera was constructed. Here the future denizens of Valdivia would live until the city was secure from the â€śinternal enemy,â€ť the Mapuche-Huilliche. With single-minded determination, the Spaniards built fortresses along both banks of the river and on islands all the way to the sea and up the coast. Once that area was controlled, their forces moved upstream, conquering land and constructing fortresses, until finally Valdivia was reached and rebuilt. It took over a hundred years before the city could once more be proudly proclaimed Spanish, in 1760-1779.
The ruins of much of the fortress system still exist, making it the second largest in Latin America, after Colombia. Those in Niebla, Corral and Isla Mancera are major attractions. Within the city itself are two tower fortifications: TorreĂłn Los Canelos (Calle Yerbas Buenas and General Lagos) and TorreĂłn del Barro (Avenida Arturo Prat Costanera, near Puente Calle Calle).
With the Wars of Independence from Spain, it was imperative to take this stronghold port from which the empire was commanding counterattacks against the rebels. Lord Thomas Cochrane led the Chilean forces to take Valdivia. As the Mapuche controlled all the territory around the city, a land-based attack was not possible. Cochrane chose an amphibious nighttime operation to first take Fuerte InglĂ©s, which quickly fell. The rest of the defense system fell like dominoes, paving Chileâ€™s way to the city. The Spaniards sacked Valdivia before escaping to Osorno and later to ChiloĂ©, Spainâ€™s last holding in the region.
Chileâ€™s 1845 Colonization Law opened the door for thousands of Germans to immigrate to this country. In Valdivia, they established many industries, most notably breweries, set up a German school and built beautiful mansions. As the territory was taken from Mapuches, the Germans moved into the Lakes District, establishing Puerto Octay, Frutillar and other villages around Lago Llanquihue. Their influence reached into Valdiviano gastronomy too, with spĂ¤tzel, homemade sausage, sauerkraut and crudos being menu mainstays.
This entire world was shattered on May 22, 1960. The largest earthquake in modern history, with a magnitude of 9.5, hit Valdivia. The tsunami that followed wiped the city from the face of the earth. Little remained. The tidal wave widened the rivers, slicing new channels in the fabric of the landscape, creating new islands and estuaries. But the people rebuilt Valdivia, once more a glorious city on the banks of many rivers. The university, Universidad Austral de Chile on Isla Teja, is a cornerstone of the economy now and assures Valdivianos a full agenda of cultural events. And once more the city is a center of beer brewing.
(Altitude: 14 meters / 46 feet, Population: 156,732, Phone Code: 063)
Neighborhoods in Valdivia: Isla Teja, Near Valdivia,
Other places nearby Valdivia: Lago Puyehue, Lago Pirehueico, RalĂşn, Lonquimay, Puerto Montt, Puerto Octay, CoĂ±aripe, Osorno, Lago Llanquihue and Parque Nacional Villarrica.
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