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Santiago de Chile

by Thomas Lindinger and Simon Schmidthaler

A historic journey on the roads of the Inca

Tired from the long journey all the way from the Pucará de Quitor to Santiago de Chile, Pachacutec is highly astonished about today's size of the city. Before the arrival of the Spanish conquerors, Santiago was one of the administrative centres of the Inca, known as tampus. They were hall-like cabins, where traders and messengers could rest, military and state affairs were negotiated, and travellers could stay overnignt. Those tampus were found along the entire, perfectly arranged, road network serving for the army and for trade, as well as for the communication system. A sophisticated system of messengers enabled the transfer of information over 240 kilometres per day. Pachacutec now starts his exhausting ascent to Portillo at almost 3000 m asl.

What is today's importance of Santiago de Chile? Find it out! By clicking on the title image, you can see further important elements of the urban landscape of Santiago de Chile. You can also click on the Inca warrior to learn more about the road network of the Inca.

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General information

Santiago is the undisputed political, economic, and cultural centre of Chile. Moving the National Congress to Valparaíso did not change this predominance. In 2017, the urban area of Santiago was populated by slightly more than five million people. The historic centre of the capital shows the classic structure of hispano-american colonial towns, with chequerboard pattern and the central Plaza de Armas (see also the contributions on Arequipa, Cusco, Lima, or Salta). However, Santiago is much more than its historic centre. Many aspects of Chilean history are reflected in the streets, buildings, and monuments in the various neighbourhoods. The following city tour will guide you from past centuries strongly informed by the Roman Catholic Church, through the political upheaval of the 1970s, all the way to postmodern times.

The church, the state, and the indigenous peoples

The Chilean church, which has developed along with the colonization, got its first bishop in 1561 in Santiago de Chile. A second bishop followed in 1563 in Concepción. Always dependent on the Spanish, an individual structure of the church only developed in the early 20th Century. A certain dependency on European missionaries remained for a long time.

Still today, countess churches and cathedrals as well as the six Catholic universities in Chile testify the powerful history of Catholicism in this country. The renowned Pontifica Universidad Católica de Chile has approx. 30,000 students.

When Pope Francis visited Chile in January 2018, the situation of ethnic minorities was particularly important to him. But how was dealt with indigenous peoples at colonial times, and what is the position of the modern Chilean state?

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The Spanish were convinced that the newly founded Vice Kingdom of Peru under the new God represented a continuation of the old Inca Empire. The Spanish crown respected the position of the Inca rulers and condsidered them as noble people. At the end of the 16th and the early 17th Century, the Inca aristocrats had ben almost completely assimilated. On the other hand, a certain awareness of their glorious past arised at that time. This awareness resulted in serious revolts and upheavals, which were put down by the Spanish with brutal force. In the battles for independence, the Inca descendants lost more and more of their importance and were suppressed or assimilated, respectively, by the creoles (the descendants of the European immigrants).

La Moneda and the Bandera Bicentenario

With the influences of the Enlightenment and its revolutionary thoughts originating in Europe as ideal, Republican opinions also arrived in Chile. These thoughts culminated in an organized movement of independence in entire Latin America. You can learn more about the battle for independence in the contribution on Mendoza. On the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the start of detachment in September 1810, the Bandera Bicentenario was raised in front of the presidential palace La Moneda in Santiago for the first time.

Raising a flag has a very special meaning for many people - be it on the moon, in the Antarctic, or in the centre of the capital city. What does it mean to you?

In the early 21st Century, Chile can feel comfortable in calling itself a democracy. However, this was not always the case in the country's younger history.

Which dramatic happenings occurred in 1973 in the presidential palace La Moneda, strongly informing the following years and even decades?

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Postmodern Santiago

07 May 2006

Click on the arrows or into the photo to switch between the years 2006 and 2016.

In this contribution, you have already visited some historically important places in Santiago, reflecting the history of Chile's capital in the last five centuries. However, the city has received a large share of its early 21st Century appearance only in the last few decades. The historic centre has disappeared behind the surrounding modern and postmodern tall buildings, and the lifestyle of many inhabitants resembles the American way of life. Such trends did not influence all neighbourhoods of Santiago at the same intensity. This photo comparison allows overviews of the city centre of Santiago in 2006 and 2016. Cerro San Cristóbal serves as the viewpoint. The colonial nucleus with the Plaza de Armas is located in the centre of the image, right of the hill of Cerro Santa Lucia.

Describe the changes you can recognize in the period 2006-2016. Visit Santiago also in Google Earth and see how the city has changed within the same period of time. Which part of Santiago has experienced the most striking changes?

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A highway for the rich

Click on the arrow to travel from Chicureo to the Barrio Alto in Santiago de Chile at 25-fold speed.

In the early 21st Century, many economically powerful people are moving to newly developed gated communities in and around Chicureo northwest of Santiago. The Autopista Nororiente connects this area, where people live, with the Barrio Alto, where people work. Completed in 2009, it reduces the travel time to Santiago from 45 minutes to 20 minutes.

Time lapse video: Peter Mathis and Stefan Reichart

References and links

Dannemann, V. (2018): Chile und die Katholische Kirche: Eine endg├╝ltige Scheidung? Deutsche Welle, 8 February 2018 [Access source]

Métraux, A. (2001): Reich der Inka. Stuttgart

Rinke, S. (2007): Kleine Geschichte Chile. Verlag C.H. Beck, München

Sattler, T. & Wittelsbürger, H. (2004): Minderheitenschutz und Menschenrechte - die chilenische Situation der indianischen Bevölkerung. Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung [Access source]

Wood, T. (1996): Die Inkas. Erlangen

Spanish-language Wikipedia article on the Autopista Nororiente [Access source]

Wikipedia article on the La Moneda Palace [Access source]

Wikipedia article on the 1973 Chile coup d'état [Access source]

Wikipedia article on Salvador Allende [Access source]

Wikipedia article on Santiago de Chile [Access source] Papst traf in Chile Opfer of Missbrauch in Kirche. 17 January 2018 [Access source]

Youtube video: Salvador Allende - Rede vor der UNO 1972 [Access source]

This contribution was revised, extended, and translated from German by Martin Mergili.