World Facts Index > Chile > Santiago

Santiago is a city with 5 million inhabitants which occupies the fertile land of the central valley of Chile between the Andes and the coast, with the Mapocho River crossing the city from East to West. The most remarkable thing about Santiago is perhaps its diversity, its many different faces hiding a secret bridge to Europe. It is a city which faces the new millennium in the midst of a process of change, with a landscape that sometimes takes us back to the colonial city it once was.

The international airport Arturo Merino Benítez has recently opened its first extension, and offers passengers a modern infrastructure and architecture. The best thing is to take a bus or a taxi to the city centre. Both options will lead you to Santiago along Ruta 68 and then along its main avenue Avenida Libertador Bernardo O'Higgins, also known as Alameda, which crosses Santiago from East to West. This avenue was opened by Pedro de Valdivia, on the 12th of February 1541, as the city's main axis or vertebra. From the beginning of the avenue, via Ruta 68, which connects the capital with Valparaíso and Viña del Mar, there are several sectors, until you reach the Estación Central, two beautiful buildings linked by an enormous metal cupola, made in the Schneider factory, in Creuzot, the same French factory famous for the huge metal railway bridges. The station opened in 1900, and was inaugurated with celebrations that are now part of the history of Santiago.

This area is a busy and active area, with many fairs and small shops in a sector of the city which dates back to the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century. Opposite the station is the Avenida Matucana, with all those old houses which lead the way to one of the oldest parks in Chile, opened in 1842, and which now holds the Museo de Historia Natural and the Ferroviario(Railway) Museum.

Eastwards along the avenue is the neighbourhood where the aristocracy used to live, erected mainly thanks to the wealth obtained from the salt mines in the North of the country. Today, one can enjoy the sight of enormous palaces, most of them now University buildings. The area spans across the following avenues: Libertador Bernardo O'Higgins, España, Norte-Sur and Blanco Encalada, opposite the Club Hipico, a must if one really wants to get an idea of the splendour of the beginning of the 20th century. The architecture in this area is mainly French style. Windows, balconies and cornices, memory of a recent past. To the East, crossing the Alameda, one gets to the Barrio Brasil, with its interesting innovative architecture designed by young professionals, where the old houses have been turned into lofts. This area is also full of pubs and restaurants.

Slightly further East appears the city centre, where the main ministerial buildings and the Presidential Palace La Moneda are. During the weekdays, the city centre is a very busy place, with many shoppers, workers and university students going from one place to another. The Universidad de Chile and the elegant Club la Unión are to be found right on Avenida Libertador Bernardo O'Higgins. Going along Calle Ahumada, northwards, one eventually comes to the administrative centre of Santiago. In less than twenty blocks, one has the chance to see the Metropolitan Cathedral, the Correo Central (former Central Post Office), the Museum of Natural History and the Town Hall of Santiago, surrounded by the recently refurbished Plaza de Armas. Nearby are also the former National Congress, the Museum of Pre-Columbian Art and the Palacio de Justicia. (Courts of Justice). Ahumada becomes Calle Puente after crossing the Plaza de Armas, and leads us to the Mapocho River. There we find Mapocho station and the Mercado Central (Central Market), an interesting place both architecturally and gastronomically, particularly when it comes to fresh fish and seafood. The North of Santiago is also a busy place, full of people going from one place to another. From Mapocho station northwards, is the Parque Forestal, where the Museum of Fine Arts is. Further East, along the Alameda, one passes by the Cerro (meaning "hill") Santa Lucía and comes to the Plaza Italia. From here we have many different options. If we choose to go North, across the beginning of the Parque Forestal, and through the Bellavista area, full of restaurants, pubs and discotheques as well as several art galleries, we will finally get to the Cerro San Cristóbal, where we can visit the Zoo, the Art Gallery, and the swimming pools Antilén and Tupahue. If, however you prefer to continue along the Alameda, which turns into the Avenida Providencia, Eastwards, you will come to the modern sector of the city, where shops, bars, restaurants, hotels and shopping centres are patiently awaiting your custom. On the East side of Cerro Santa Lucía is the Lastarria area, the intellectual and bohemian centre of this area, with cinemas, art galleries and restaurants.

Avenida Providencia is the commercial face of Santiago, full of shops, pubs and restaurants, particularly where it meets Avenida Specie. Perfect to sit out on one of the many terraces and enjoy and ice-cold beer, or whatever you happen to fancy. Providencia turns into Avenida Apoquindo, after crossing the San Carlos canal. A few blocks towards the North, on a parallel street, is the Avenida Kennedy, a fast road which passes buy Los Leones Golf Club, crosses Avenida Américo Vespucio, to finally enter the heart of Las Condes, a neighbourhood of modern and spacious houses, and where one can find two of the largest indoor shopping malls in Santiago: Parque Arauco mall and Alto Las Condes mall, both of them on the south side of Avenida Kennedy. From here it is almost possible to touch the Andes and its ski centres. Simply continue eastwards for a few kilometres, and you'll be there.

Santiago is an essential part of any Latin American tour, full of contrasts, with both modern and traditional corners and streets. It is also the perfect starting point for short trips to, for instance, the Cajón de Maipo or the central coast beaches.

History of Santiago

Discovered by the Spaniards, many were those who explored this country. Magallanes discovered the South of Chile in 1529; Francisco de Hoces discovered Cape Horn; and Diego de Almagro discovered the North and centre of the country in 1536.

Diego de Almagro had already acquired sufficient wealth in the conquest of Peru, and was able to lead a leisurely life in Spain. However, the prospect of conquering Chile attracted his adventurous spirit enough to embark on a new project. Besides, his relationship with Francisco Pizarro had somewhat deteriorated due to their dispute over the city of Cuzco. These reasons led him to spend a great deal of money in equipping a company of 500 men to go with him on his journey. Thus, the conqueror departed from Cuzco at the beginning of July 1935, towards Chile.

Across the Bolivian mountain range, round the Titicaca Lake, he went along the shores of the Desaguadero River and finally set up camp in Tupiza. In January 1536, he arrived in Argentina and followed his way across the mountains, battling against the indigenous peoples who were defending their land. Nevertheless, they continued their journey, suffering from the effects of the heat and the height of the mountains. 10,000 natives died, as well as most of the horses. At this point it seemed difficult to go on. Almagro decided to take a group of his men with him to the Valley of Copiapó, where they managed to get provisions and take them back to the rest of his men. From there, they managed to continue their way, through the valley of Aconcagua, and started exploring the country. However, Almagro soon realised, seeing that Chile was a country of indigenous people working the land, that the country was not the land of riches he had been led to believe.

Diego de Almagro decided to go back to Peru, where Hernando Pizarro and Pedro de Valdivia win the battle of the salt mines against him. Not long after, he died in Peru.

Foundation of the city of Santiago

Pedro de Valdivia had taken part in a large number of battles by then. After helping Pizarro to win the battle against Almagro, he managed to obtain a rich mine of silver and a considerable number of natives to work for him. Valdivia was finally authorised by Charles V to conquer Chile. With the help of a number of people, Valdivia set out from Cuzco with 11 Spanish soldiers and 1,000 Peruvian Indians. On the way he managed to accrue another hundred odd soldiers. Valdivia entered the valley of Copiapó and after 11 months of expedition, he finally set up camp on the shores of the Mapocho River and founded the city of Santiago del Nuevo Extremo on the 12th of February 1541. The fertile land of the river provided him with water and wood.

The city was trapezium-shaped, confined by the river to the North and South, the hills to the East, and what is now the Avenida Brasil to the West. The land was divided into squares, and each square in turn divided into four large closed spaces. One of the most central squares was named the Plaza de Armas, where Valdivia planted the tree of justice 'the bigarreau cherry tree'. The North side of the Square was reserved for the governor's residence and the jail, while on the West side the church was built.

Six months after its foundation, the city was destroyed by Michimalongo's men, but was immediately rebuilt in the same place.

During the Colonial period, the immigration to Santiago was massive. This led to the construction of twelve more churches. However, the high number of earthquakes during this period only left some of them standing: Iglesia de San Francisco (1618), which is still a church today; Velasco's residence (Casa de Manso de Velasco) (1730); the Posada del Corregidor (1750) and the house which once belonged to Mateo de Toro y Zambrano, which is known as the Casa Colorada today (1769).

During the Enlightenment new cities were founded, new bridges were built, as well as new roads and canals. These are the years when the architect Joaquín Toesca arrived in Santiago to build the Neo-Classical Palacio de la Moneda (1805), currently the work place of the Presidents of Chile, the Cathedral (1785), the Iglesia de la Merced (1795), the Iglesia de Santo Domingo (1808) and the building of the Real Audiencia, which is today the National Museum of History.

After Chile's independence, Bernardo O'Higgins inaugurated the Alameda de las Delicias, along the old course of the river, planting four lines of poplars (1820) and founded the Cementerio General (1820). Finally the Cerro Santa Lucía was made into a public park.

In the nineteen hundreds the wealth from the salt mines, among other elements, brought Santiago many new advances. The first newspapers appear, as do the electric trams, and large houses and buildings are built, such as the Subercaseaux House (1930), the Ochagavía House, the Irarrázaval House. The Museum of Fine Arts is opened (1910) and in 1913 the construction of the National Library begins.

In the fifties and sixties the capital kept on growing and expanding in every direction.

In the seventies, the country suffers radical changes in its politics. For the first time in history a socialist president, Salvador Allende, was elected democratically. The government with Salvador Allende at the head developed a democratic and pluralistic way towards structural changes in the economy and reforms in society. But these were tense times, and the tension led to the coup against the Chilean president on the 11th September 1973.

Reconstructing history is undoubtedly a difficult thing to do. The President then became Augusto Pinochet Ugarte, followed by Patricio Aylwin, Eduardo Frei Montalva and the recently elected Ricardo Lagos.

Santiago, capital of Chile

543 metres above sea level, on the skirts of the Andes, Santiago is 140 square kilometres in extension. It has a population of approximately 4 million, and is the main financial, administrative, cultural, commercial, industrial and political centre of Chile, in spite of the efforts of recent governments to decentralise the country.

The climate is temperate, with regular temperature variations between winter and summer. From March to September is the rainy season and the temperature in summer rises above 22 degrees centigrade.

In Santiago, the tourist will find hotels, restaurants, pubs, shopping centres, galleries, museums, monuments, entertainment parks and cultural centres, all fully equipped with the best facilities. Areas such as Bellavista, Suecia, Plaza Ñuñoa and Las Condes are the main restaurant and pub sectors in the city. If you are into skiing, Portillo, Farellones, La Parva and Valle Nevado are the places to go. For shopping, the most popular places are the "Mall del Centro", Alto Las Condes, Apumanque and Plaza Vespucio. Children will enjoy the Zoo, Fantasilandia, Mundomágico and the Planetarium. For those who wish to get to know a little more about the Chilean people, simply have a walk along the Paseo Ahumada and Huérfanos to a get a perfect idea of what life in Santiago is actually like. To walk through its streets is to open your eyes to dreams, some of them come true, some of them frustrated due to lack of opportunities or money. But to believe and to dream are characteristics of this city which opens its streets to foreigners and Chileans to see them walk freely, but conscious of the fact that they are building a better place.


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