Location and geography

Background Information



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picture of Bernardo O'Higgins


The first Europeans to arrive in Chile were the Conquistador, Diego de Almagro, and his men in 1541. These Spaniards came seeking gold and riches they had previously encountered in the neighboring country of Peru. Upon these men's arrival, they met with a vast amount of Indians from various cultures who would firecely fight them, mainly the Mapuche tribe.

In 1550 by Pedro de Valdivia, one of Francisco Pizarro's men carried out Chile’s conquest. The Spanish did not find the riches they sought, but recognized the agricultural potential of Chile's central valley. Therefore, Chile was declared a viceroyalty of Peru by the Spanish.

When Napoleon's brother Joseph took over the Spanish throne, a movement for independence began. A national junta was formed on September 18, 1810 and named after Ferdinand, the heir of the king whom Joseph had deposed. Chile became a republic within the Spanish monarchy. Eventually this led to a move for complete independence from Spain and the Spanish attempts to regain control led to a long fight between the countries in a period later known as the Reconquista. This led to September 18 becoming the national Chilean Independence day.

However, the royalists were not defeated until 1817 by Bernardo O’Higgins, today considered a patriotic hero in Chile, and Jose San Martin, who previously helped free Argentina. On February 12, 1818, Chile became an independent republic under O’Higgins.

There was little social change if any due to the political revolt and 19th century Chilean society kept a stratified colonial social structure. This social structure was greatly influenced by family politics and the Roman Catholic Church. This structure is still seen today with a distinct division among the social classes: the rich and the poor. However, the middle class is rapidly outgrowing both in census.
The government in Santiago strengthened its position in the south toward the end of the 19th century. This was accomplished by suppressing the Mapuche Indians, the most rebellious and hardest to conquer group of natives in Chile. In 1881 Chile gained sovereignty over the Strait of Magellan through a signed treaty with Argentina. Chile also expanded its territory by almost one-third because of the result of the War of the Pacific with Peru and Bolivia (1879-83).