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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 Santísima 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 Chiloé.


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 Río Valdivia flows into Bahía de Corral, El Castillo San Pedro de Alcántara de la Isla de Mancera was constructed. Here the future denizens of Valdivia would live until the city was secure from the “internal enemy,” 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 Inglés, which quickly fell. The rest of the defense system fell like dominoes, paving Chile’s way to the city. The Spaniards sacked Valdivia before escaping to Osorno and later to Chiloé, Spain’s last holding in the region.


Chile’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 spätzel, 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: Near Valdivia, Isla Teja,

Other places nearby Valdivia: Lonquimay, Parque Nacional Puyehue, Puerto Octay, Ensenada, Curarrehue , Parque Nacional Tolhuaca, Puerto Montt, Coñaripe, Melipeuco and Temuco.

By Lorraine Caputo

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

01 Jul 2009

Top Places in Valdivia

Isla Teja

Valdivia’s many rivers weave around a large island, Isla Teja. The German settlers had built their homes and industries here. They even established a Deutscheschule, a German School. Since the 1960 ...
City Zone
Isla Teja, Valdivia, Chile

Near Valdivia

Getting out to the countryside near Valdivia presents many more facets of this unique land. Up the rivers are Punucapa, a small village known for its pilgrimage and brews, and Reserva Natural RĂ­o ...
City Zone
Near Valdivia, Valdivia, Chile

Things to do in Valdivia

Museums of Valdivia

132594Valdivia has many museums covering the full spectrum of topics. Some are located in the city itself, and others on Isla Teja across the river. Most are closed on Monday.Museo de la Catedral ...
Valdivia, Chile

Isla de Mancera

132680In the center of BahĂ­a de Corral at the mouth of the Valdivia River is Isla Mancera, previously called GuiguacabĂ­n by the indigenous people. This small island played a big role in the defense ...
Other Activity
Near Valdivia, Valdivia, Chile


132679On the south shores of BahĂ­a de Corral is the village of Corral. Here, history and nature are prime attractions, with ruins of Spanish fortresses alongside beaches for swimming and fishing. In town, ...
Other Activity
Near Valdivia, Valdivia, Chile

CervecerĂ­a Kunstmann and Museo de la Cerveza

132678To have a taste of home, German immigrants in Valdivia began brewing their own beer. With the 1960 earthquake, however, all the cervecerĂ­as were destroyed. Nary had a drop come out of the taps, ...
Near Valdivia, Valdivia, Chile


132677The road west from Valdivia cuts across Isla Teja, then the Puente Cruces bridge, back to the mainland. It passes Cervecería Kunstmann (Km 8) and along marshes. Nearing Niebla, cabañas and camping ...
Other Activity
Near Valdivia, Valdivia, Chile

Parque Saval

132602The grounds of Parque Saval come alive on weekends with families picnicking, strolling and just enjoying the outdoors. This 30-hectare park has two major attractions. Across the water lily pond that ...
City Park
Isla Teja, Valdivia, Chile

Museo de Arte Contemporáneo

132599Photos in the reception area of the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo show this building's fate – formerly the Anwandter Brewery – before and after the 1960 mega quake. In a wing that was left ...
Isla Teja, Valdivia, Chile

Museo HistĂłrico y ArqueolĂłgico Mauricio van de Maele

132598On the banks of RĂ­o Calle Calle, the former home of the Anwandter brewing family houses the Museo HistĂłrico y ArqueolĂłgico Mauricio van de Maele. Named for the museum's founder, the first-floor ...
Isla Teja, Valdivia, Chile

Boat Tours of Valdivia's Rivers

132597Cruising Valdivia’s waterways is another way to explore the area. Bahía, Aramo and Santa María la Blanca boats do one-hour city tours along the Valdivia and Calle-Calle Rivers pointing out the ...
Valdivia, Chile

Feria Fluvial

132596The RĂ­o Valdivia captures pieces of the dawn. Already stands have gone up. Carts of today's catch gutted and neatly lined up. Mussels and clams clack as they are poured into tubs. Crabs claw at the ...
Valdivia, Chile

The Performance Arts in Valdivia

Thanks in large part to the Universidad Austral de Chile (UACh), Valdivia has a full slate of musical concerts, dance, cinema and other performance arts throughout the year. Teatro Municipal Lord ...
Other Activity
Valdivia, Chile
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