Chile's steady economic growth has transformed Santiago into Latin America's most modern metropolitan area, with extensive suburban development, dozens of shopping centers, and impressive high-rise architecture. It has a modern transportation infrastructure, including the steadily-growing Metro de Santiago, a public bus transport system that is being continually modernized, and a free flow toll-based ring road and inner city highway system. Santiago is the financial, cultural and political center of Chile and home of several regional headquarters to many multinational corporations.
Founding of the city
Santiago was founded by Spanish Conquistador Pedro de Valdivia on 12 February 1541, with the name Santiago de Nueva Extremadura, as a homage to Saint James and Extremadura and in relation with the first name given to Chile, Nueva Extremadura. Extremadura was Valdivia's birthplace in Spain. The founding ceremony was held on Huelén Hill (later renamed Cerro Santa Lucía). Valdivia chose the location of Santiago because of its climate, abundant vegetation, and the ease with which it could be defended—the Mapocho River then split into two branches and rejoined further downstream, forming an island. The Inca ruler Manco Cápac II warned the new rulers that his people would be hostile to the occupiers. The Spanish invaders had to battle against hunger caused by this resistance. Pedro de Valdivia ultimately succeeded in stabilizing the food supply and other resources needed for Santiago to thrive.
The layout of the new town consisted of straight roads of 12 varas width, in equal intervals of 138 varas perpendicular to each other. With nine roads in the east-west direction and 15 in the north-south direction, there were 126 blocks that formed the so-called manzanas, or square cut.
Continued resistance by the indigenous population resulted in a series of further conflicts. On 11 September 1541, the Picunche chief, Michimalonco, led an attack on Santiago, beginning a three-year-long war. At the time, the Conquistadores were in a precarious situation, suffering persistent food shortages in almost complete isolation from the rest of the world.
In January 1542, Pedro de Valdivia sent an emissary, Alonso de Monroy, to Peru to request help. The Conquistadors suffered 20 harsh months until de Monroy returned from Peru with reinforcements, ending the isolation and demoralizing situation of the soldiers in Santiago. The uprising ultimately failed and the indigenous population moved south.
Despite threats from Indian attacks and natural disasters such as earthquakes, and floods, Santiago was rapidly settled. Of the 126 blocks designed by Gamboa in 1558, 40 were occupied by 1580, while nearby lands supported tens of thousands of livestock. These early settlers constructed the first important buildings in the city, including the first Cathedral in 1561 and the Church of San Francisco, built in 1618. Both structures were built primarily of adobe and stone.
In 1767, the corregidor Luis Manuel de Zañartu began construction on the Calicanto Bridge, one of the most important architectural works of the entire colonial period in Chile. The bridge was completed in 1779 and linked the two halves of the city across the Mapocho River.
In 1770, Governor Agustín de Jáuregui hired the Italian architect Joaquín Toesca to design, among other important works, the facade of the Santiago Metropolitan Cathedral and La Moneda, the presidential palace.
The government of Ambrosio O'Higgins opened a major road to Valparaíso in 1791.
On 12 February 1817, the Battle of Chacabuco was fought a short distance north of Santiago in the town of Colina. Argentine and Chilean armies, led by José de San Martín and Bernardo O'Higgins, fought Spanish royalists. On the same day, Chile proclaimed its independence.
During the authoritarian era of the so-called Republic, from 1830 to 1891, the school system was introduced and cultural life started to flourish. In 1843 the Universidad de Chile was founded, followed by the Universidad Pontificia Católica in 1888. By 1885, the population of Santiago had reached 189,322.
During the years of the Republican era, institutions such as the University of Chile (Universidad de Chile), the Normal School of Preceptors, the School of Arts and Crafts, and the Quinta Normal, which included the Museum of Fine Arts (now Museum of Science and Technology) and the National Museum of Natural History, were founded. Created primarily for educational use, they also became examples of public planning during that period. In 1851, the first telegraph system connecting the capital with the Port of Valparaíso was inaugurated.
Also during this time and with the work of European landscapers in 1873, O'Higgins Park came to existence. The park, open to the public, became a point of interest in Santiago due to its large gardens, lakes, and carriage trails. Other important buildings were opened during this era, such as the Teatro Municipal opera house, and the Club Hípico de Santiago. At the same time, the 1875 International Exposition was held in the grounds of the Quinta Normal.
The city became the main hub of the national railway system. The first railroad reached the city on 14 September 1857, at the Santiago Estación Central railway station. Under construction at the time, the station would be opened permanently in 1884. During those years, railways connected the city to Valparaíso as well as regions in the north and south of Chile. The streets of Santiago were paved and by 1875 and there were 1,107 cars in the city, while 45,000 people used tram services on a daily basis.
Growth and development
The 1930s saw the beginning of a transformation of Santiago into a modern, industrialized city. In the following decades, Santiago flourished and continued to grow rapidly due to emigration from Chile's northern and southern regions. In 1940 the city was home to 952,075 people, rising to 1,350,409 in 1952 and 1,907,378 by 1960.
While the majority of Santiago's growth took place without any regulation, various development plans for Greater Santiago began to be implemented in the late 1950s. In 1958 a plan was launched to regulate urban areas, setting a size limit of 38,600 hectares for the city, for a maximum population of 3,260,000 inhabitants. New roads such as the Avenida Américo Vespucio Ring Road and the Pan American Highway were constructed, while existing industrial centers were enlarged and new ones established. The hosting of the World Cup in 1962 gave new impetus to the improvement of public works within the city. In 1966 the Metropolitan Park of Santiago was established in the Cerro San Cristóbal and the Department of Housing and Urban Planning (Ministerio de Vivienda y Urbanismo, MINVU) began eradicating shanty towns, replacing them with new homes. San Borja, built near the Diego Portales Building, was also remodeled at this time.
The new international Pudahuel Airport opened in 1968 and, after years of debate, construction of the Santiago Metro began in 1969 and was completed in 1975. The Metro was very successful and in subsequent years expanded, comprising two perpendicular lines by the end of 1978. Telecommunications were improved with the construction of the Torre Entel in 1975, which would become one of the symbols of the capital and the tallest structure in the country for two decades.
After the 1973 Chilean coup d'état and the establishment of a military regime, no major changes were made to urban planning until the beginning of 1980, when the government adopted a neoliberal economic model and took on the role of supervisor of a market economy. In 1979 the master plan was amended, extending the urban area to more than 62,000 hectares. Expansion has been particularly acute in La Florida, the country's most populous municipality, with 328,881 inhabitants at the time of the 1992 census.
A strong earthquake struck the city on 3 March 1985, causing few casualties but leaving thousands homeless and destroying many old buildings. Another earthquake, on 27 February 2010, caused massive destruction and hundreds of deaths in other regions of Chile, but there was little damage in Santiago and only 23 fatalities were reported.