Santiago de Chile, Chile

Population: 5,220,000

A wonderful surprise for many, Santiago de Chile, or more commonly just ‘Santiago’, is the capital as well as the largest city in Chile. The city sits at 600m (1968ft) above sea level and lies in a valley that separates the snow capped Andes Mountains from the Chilean Coastal Range. A wonderful pace for taking a stroll as each neighbourhood has its own unique character each full of vibrance and colour.

What’s in a name?

At present there are 148 places throughout the world that have Santiago as a name. These include countries such as Philippines (31 places), Mexico (27 places), Spain (10 places), Brazil (9 places) and Columbia (8 places). The name is a reference to St. James or James the Great, the patron saint of Spain, one of the twelve apostles and one of the first disciples to join Jesus. In the Spanish language, Santiago is derived from the Latin Sanctu Iacobu which itself is St. James in English.


It has been claimed that the area around modern day Santiago has been occupied for more than 10,000 years, but for most visitors, the city began with the arrival of the Spanish conquistador, Pedro de Valdivia in 1540. Prior to Valdivia’s arrival several small villages were located along the coast, mostly inhabited by local Picunches, who were subjects of the Inca Empire. After meetings with the local chieftains, the idea was put forward to found a city on behalf of Carlos I (Charles I) of Spain, to which the locals agreed. On 12th February, 1541, the new city of Santiago de Nueva Extremadura, named after Valdivia’s native Extremadura in Spain, was officially founded.

By 1558 the city was beginning to grow with many major buildings being constructed including Plaza Mayor (1550), Cathedral (1561) and the Church of San Francisco (1572). The late 16th and 17thcenturies saw the city beset by numerous natural disasters including an earthquake (1575), Smallpox epidemic (1575), floods (1590, 1608 & 1618) and another earthquake in 1647. These disasters however could not stop the growth of the city which saw the construction of the Calicanto Bridge, Plaza de Armas and the La Moneda, today the seat of the President of Chile.

The 19th century saw Chile claim its independence from Spain with Santiago becoming the capital of the new republic. With its new status, the population soon passed 100,000 people, Almeda Avenue, the city’s main street, was begun along with the University of Chile, the natural History Museum and the Quinta Normal, one of the city’s largest parks.

Santiago’s success can be measured by its population which by 1920 had grown to more than 500,000. This success however was brought to a shuddering halt with the Great Depression which saw not only the collapse of industry and manufacturing but also a huge fall in agricultural exports. As a result, many unemployed agricultural workers saw Santiago, and its remaining industry, as the only chance to survive. Many arrived with little or no possessions and were forced to live on the streets or in newly created low income areas. Disease was widespread, with tuberculosis claiming the lives of thousands, unemployment, and the cost of living sky rocketed whilst salaries and incomes fell drastically.

Incredible reforms, instigated by the government founded Production Development Foundation, saw major growth return through industry, shipping and manufacturing.

Today, the city is the home of more than 5,000,000 inhabitants with new and affluent suburbs being created for the rather large middle class. Almost every major cultural, pollical and financial organisation is headquartered in the nation’s capital as well as many multinational corporations.


Plaza de Armas

Today the Main Square of Santiago de Chile which has most of the city’s most important building surrounding it including, Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago, Central Post office and the Natural History Museum.

La Moneda Palace

In English, the Palace of the Mint, it is today the seat of the President of the Republic of Chile. Dating back 1784 when it was built as the national mint, today the building occupies an entire block in the centre of the city.

Central Market of Santiago

Considered one of the finest markets in the world, it was opened in 1872 with the market’s main feature is its incredible vaulted cast iron roof and supporting two-tier metal structure which was made in Glasgow, Scotland. The building is also home to many restaurants and is one of the most visited sights in the city.

Santiago Metropolitan Cathedral

Present structure dates from 1753 with nearly all previous structures destroyed by earthquakes. The architect, the Italian Gioacchino Toesca, designed the building to be able to survive the many earthquakes that the city experiences. One of the building more notable features are the two towers which decorate the façade which were added almost a century later.