The city was founded and named Santiago de Nueva Estremadura on Feb. 12, 1541, by Pedro de Valdivia. Laid out according to Valdivia's plan in a gridiron pattern between the hill of Santa Lucía and the Mapocho, a mountain torrent, Santiago has spread over a broad valley plain and is today one of the largest cities in South America. Low foothills encompass the valley, and the snowcapped Andes, forming a superb backdrop, rise in the eastern distance. For most of the year the capital (alt. c.1,700 ft/520 m) has a nearly perfect climate—warm days and cool nights.
While some structures from the colonial era remain, the atmosphere of Santiago is fairly modern (much construction took place in the late 19th cent.), with neoclassical government offices, modern office buildings, and sumptuous residences. Spacious parks, plazas, gardens, and wide avenues (the Avenida Bernardo O'Higgins extends 2 mi/3.2 km in a straight line through the city) are characteristic features. The city also has a zoo, camping grounds, and several sports stadiums. Focal point of the intellectual and cultural development of Chile from colonial times to the present, Santiago has many national establishments—the library, the museum, the theater, and (besides other institutions of higher learning) the National Univ., which is the successor to the Univ. of San Felipe, founded by a royal decree of 1758.
Santiago has experienced several catastrophes. In Sept., 1541, the indigenous Mapuche peoples nearly wiped out the new settlement; it was completely leveled by an earthquake in 1647 and has suffered significant damage from other earthquakes (most recently in 2010); and the Mapocho has frequently flooded the city. In 1863 the Campañía Church, with doors that opened inward, caught fire from a falling lamp, and 2,000 worshipers perished.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
See more Encyclopedia articles on: South American Political Geography