Santiago first began as an
encampment known as Santiago de la Nueva Extramadura. It was
founded in 1541 by Pedro de Valdivia. By the late 16th century,
Santiago was a settlement of 200 houses settled by 700 Spaniards,
plus their laborers.
For two centuries, Santiago remained the only city in central
Chile and became filled with farms known
as “haciendas.” During the late 18th century, however,
European architects began to build up the capital with monstrous
works such as a palace, which became the largest Neoclassical construction
in Colonial Arnedea. The city started to grow and on September 18,
1810, independence was declared.
During the late 18th century, Santiago grew even larger and acquired
the makings of a city. Progress was a bit slow, however, as Santiago
only had around 30,000 residents. There were just a few schools
and libraries, but hardly any paved roads.
In just a few decades, the capital had more than 100,000 inhabitants.
Railway and telegraph lines linked the city to Valparaiso, which
had grown to 60,000 residents. The city even grew architecturally
with the construction of several monuments, beautiful gardens, museums
and new bridges over the Mapocho River. In the late 20th century,
economic growth added many high rises and residential neighborhoods.
During the economic boom, the city moved to regularize its reforms
and tenure. A constitution of liberty was approved in 1980 in which
the government received 67 percent of the vote. However, both leftists
and Christian Democrats called for a no vote. Because there were
no safeguards for the opposition or for the balloting, most people
expressed doubts about the outcome and that the constitution may
have won by a lesser margin. According to the new constitution,
Pinochet would remain president through 1989.
The approval marked the institutionalization of Pinochet’s
political system. The military believed a dictatorship had now begun
into an authoritarian regime. When the new charter took effect in
1981, the dictatorship was at the peak and economically successful.
Pinochet’s era left a mark on the city. Air attacks left monuments
such as the presidential palace unusable and damage to other buildings
is still being repaired. Not only did Pinochet’s rule leave
Santiago with a destructed city, but it caused horrific air pollution
through the use of private automobiles.
Today, the city of over 5 million is one of South America’s
largest, but it still has problems with big city life. Smog and
congested city streets are still a regular part of life.