Today on February 12, 1541 the area first known as ‘Santiago de la Nueva Extremadura’ (Santiago of the New Frontier) was founded by the Spanish conquistador Pedro de Valdivia. This occurred 20 years after Chile was discovered by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan in 1520. The newly found settlement would later become one of Latin America’s largest cities and the capital of Chile – home to 5 million people.
Valdivia traveled down the Incan trail to the Mapocho River to discover Santiago, located at the bottom of a hill, the Cerro Santa Lucia. Valdivia was an ambassador of the conqueror of the Incan empire, Francisco Pizarro. The conquistador named his find after the patron saint of Spain – the Apostle Santiago.
Spanish conquistadors saw that Santiago, at the foot of a hill with the Andean mountains to the east and Mapocho River around it had natural barriers to protect people from warring factions. Valdivia found a community of Picunche Indians that were nearly wiped out by Mapuche Indian warriors six months after the conquistador arrived. Archaeologists believe nearly 700 years before Valdivia found the region and its Indian inhabitants, the area was first settled by native Indians that were no longer nomads but an anchored agricultural community. In 1553, 12 years after discovering Santiago the native Indians killed Valdivia and destroyed Santiago as Spanish tried to colonize the region.
Native Indians fought for nearly 100 years to remain free of Spanish rule but were eventually colonized by the Spanish, not gaining independence until 1810.
The city was named the capital of Chile in 1818, becoming one of the larger cities of Latin America with 45,000 residents at the time. It was during the 18th century that Santiago began to resemble a proper city with beautiful parks and impressive buildings being built like the El Teatro Muncipal and the seat of government the La Moneda Palace.
Santiago is the cornerstone of the country’s industrial and financial sectors with approximately one third of all Chilean’s living in Santiago.
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