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Visit Santiago de Chile

History and Culture Santiago de Chile

Santiago in Chile and not in Cuba was founded in 1541 by the Spanish conquistador Pedro de Valdivia, originally from Extremadura, giving it its original name of Santiago de Nueva Extremadura (Santiago comes from the name of the local patron saint). The founding ceremony of the new city was held on what is now Cerro Santa Luca, this location being chosen for numerous reasons such as the height making it easily defendable, the plentiful vegetation, the pleasant climate and the surrounding Mapocho River.

Santiago Early History

1930

At its commencement, things did not go altogether smoothly for the newly inaugurated city as it was not welcomed by the Inca people already in the area and they obstructed the movement of food and supplies into the area. This problem was eventually surmounted and the city began to develop in a grid like plan, similar to many other South American colonial cities at the time. However, further problems with other Indigenous communities resulted in a three year war with the Picunche tribe, from below the Choapa River. Whilst the situation of the city did in fact make its defence somewhat undemanding, it also brought problems of getting food and supplies into the city in times of warfare with troublesome indigenous communities due to the city's isolation. Eventually, help was sent for from Peru, the siege ended and the Picunche people moved on.

Under colonial rule Santiago transformed rather rapidly into a recognisable city. 40 of the initially planned 126 blocks of Santiago became occupied and much livestock and agricultural activity filled the surrounding areas. The first Cathedral arrived in the area in 1561, followed by the first church in 1618 and the Calicanto Bridge in 1767. Construction, design and development were the orders of the day and building connections with the other colonial powers at that time. In 1791 the Government of Ambrosio Higgins, a Spaniard of Irish origin, opened up a major road to Valparaiso

Around 1810 Chile began to bear witness to some of its first cries for independence from the Spanish Royalists. In 1817 the Battle of Chacabuco against the Spanish, where armies from Argentina and Chile marched against the Spanish Royalists and Chile declared its independence from them. Santiago then became the nation's capital the following year, with a total of 45,000 inhabitants and this year, 1818 became the official year of independence. It was then, from around 1830 onwards, without other distractions to see too, that Santiago began to transform properly into a large city, with the development of a school system and in 1843, the inauguration of the city's university.

Construction and Development

May of the city's sights that you will see upon visiting it today are a product of the regeneration project that began in 1872, when Parque O'Higgins, the Theatre of the city and the Club Hipico Racetrack, the biggest racetrack in Chile (now also used for large concerts) were all developed.

With regard to the territorial and political development of Santiago and in a wider sense Chile, the 1836-1839 war with neighbouring Peru gained Chile some land and again in 1979 until 1983 in a war against Bolivia and Peru, Chile won Antofagasta, Bolivia's only outlet to the sea, and also more land from Peru. In 1891 Pedro Montt, a Chilean politician, overthrew the then President, Jos Balmaceda following a disagreement in Congress. A parliamentary dictatorship then commenced lasting until 1925. However, despite some political unrest, Santiago continued to flourish and grow.

Chile Plaza de Armas

As is often the case, rapid expansion and development in a city brings with it an increase in the gap between the rich and poor and more poorer neighbourhoods began to emerge amongst the glistening new roads and industrial centres. Many of the city's rich moved away from the centre and the extensive rural areas surrounding Santiago became urbanised at the expense of much of the agricultural activity being practiced in those areas. The centre then was left to develop with a mix of regulated and sporadic growth, leaving a somewhat haphazard feel at times to the city's structure. In 1962 the World Cup was held in Santiago, in which Chile finished in a very respectable third place. The huge sporting event gave Santiago and the rest of Chile huge worldwide exposure and boosted both development and the economy. A metropolitan park was founded in the Cerro San Cristobal in 1966. It is Santiago's largest municipal park, containing an amphitheatre, swimming pools, a zoo, japanese gardens and some spectacular views besides. In 1968 the city's airport began operation and then in 1969 work began on the metro system of Santiago, nowadays South America's most extensive underground rail network, with over 100 stations spanning across the city. Things in Santiago were progressing at an impressive rate and Chile was even considered to be politically stable and a democratic example amongst a South America plagued with uprisings, revolts and dictatorships. However, this was not to be the case for long and around the corner was the period that, perhaps disappointingly, Chile is best remembered in the history books for.

The Pinochet Years

In 1973 a military junta, allegedly heavily backed by the United States of America in their quest against all things Communist or seemingly so, overthrew the democratically elected socialist president Salvador Allende. From the military junta that took control rapidly emerged Augusto Pinochet, who became outright President in 1974, overseeing a reign of terror against the remaining supporters of Allende's socialist government. Allende resisted until the bitter end, but Pinochet and his supporters were a ruthless powerhouse who achieved the ultimate result of a dictatorship that was to last right up until the year 1990. It was a dictatorship characterised by political repression, persecution of any opposition, economic problems and human rights violations. In investigations carried out since the time of Pinochet's regime, centre of detention and torture for opponents of the dictatorship have been uncovered, as well as a more accurate number of the number of 'disappeared' from this time period. The military government gradually lost power over the years, following left-wing guerrilla resistance and economic policies that, whilst mostly successful and widely praised, did not benefit the poorer classes and resulted in many human rights abuses. In 1988 a referendum was passed in which Pinochet's Government lost power, but power was only totally and completely relinquished following the promise that the majority of members of the military would not be prosecuted under the following regime and the conversion of Pinochet into a 'Senator for Life', essentially guaranteeing immunity for him against any future prosecution. Pinochet was eventually indicted for various crimes against humanityby several European countries, including the United Kingdom. He was then charged with these crimes upon his return to Chile after release from the U.K., however he died before being officially convicted of any of these crimes.

Modern Day Chile

Chile Santiago

Despite causing repression in many areas, the policies of the Government under Pinochet did not ignore urban development entirely and following the introduction of more neo-liberal policies in the 1980's which expanded the area of the capital and boosted development. The area of La Florida began to emerge as the most populous area in the city and expansion continued outwards into the outer rural areas. Two major blows to the infrastructure of Santiago were to come in the form of large earthquakes in 1985 and then again in 2010. The 2010 one, allow causing widespread destruction, affected Santiago relatively little, however, in altogether many old buildings were destroyed and many people were left homeless. Thanks to international aid and internal reconstruction Chile has began to rebuild in affected areas, but estimated economic losses due to the earthquake are huge.

Despite previous political instability and natural disasters Chile and Santiago in particular have emerged as a popular tourist spot, a key destination for Spanish learners and a beautiful place to pass some time on a trip of any length. Santiago itself is a buzzing metropolis whose frantic city life is somewhat calmed by its cool mountainous exterior and abundance of culture and creativity on offer to all who venture to the city that epitomises and shows the history of Chile and what modern day life here is now all about.