began as a fortified encampment, known by the name Santiago de
la Nueva Extremadura, the furthest-flung post of the Spanish empire.
It was founded in 1541 by conquistador Pedro de Valdivia. By the
late 16th century, Santiago was a settlement of just 200 houses,
inhabited by 700 Spaniards, plus their thousands of Indian laborers
and servants, and a growing population of mestizos.
For over two centuries, Santiago
remained the only city in Central Chile, while great farms known
as haciendas formed the basis of rural society. During the late
18th century, European architects began to grace the capital with
elegant works such as the Palacio de la Moneda, the largest Neoclassical
construction in Colonial Arnedea. Revolutionary ideas were quick
to brew in this increasingly libertarian atmosphere, and on Septernber
18, 1810, independence was declared in the Real Audiencia building,
adjacent to Santiago's historic Plaza de Armas.
It was not until the late 18th
century that Santiago slowly began to acquire some of the trappings
of a city. But progress was slow, and when colonial rule ended
in the early 19th century Santiago had barely 30,000 residents.
City streets remained largely unpaved, and most country roads
were still potholed tracks. There were few schools and libraries,
and cultural life was bleak.
In just a few decades, however,
the capital had more than 100,000 inhabitants. Railway and telegraph
lines linked the city to Valparaíso, by that stage a bustling
commercial center with a population of 60,000. Independence brought
new-found wealth to Chile principally from the nitrate fields
of the north. This led to the construction of several monumental
works that were to completely transform the capital. The creation
of extensive parksand gardens, a fine arts museum, and new bridges
over the Mapocho river were among the most important works of
this era. In the late twentieth century, unprecedented economic
growth has added scores of high rises and spotless residential
neighborhoods to Santiago's panorama of historic architecture.
At the height of the economic
boom, the regime moved to legitimize and regularize its reforms
and its tenure. Its new "constitution of liberty" was
approved in a controlled plebiscite in 1980, in which the government
claimed to have received 67 percent of the vote. Both leftists
and Christian Democrats had called for a no vote. Because there
were no safeguards for the opposition or for the balloting, most
analysts expressed doubts about the government's percentage and
assumed that the constitution may have won by a lesser margin.
According to the new constitution, Pinochet would remain president
through 1989; a plebiscite in 1988 would determine if he would
have an additional eight years in office.
The constitution's approval
marked the institutionalization of Pinochet's political system.
In the eyes of the military, a dictatorship had now been transformed
into an authoritarian regime, rule by exception having been replaced
by the rule of law. When the new charter took effect in 1981,
the dictatorship was at the peak of its powers, politically untouchable
and economically successful. The Pinochet era left its mark on
the city, both literally and indirectly. Air attacks and military
actions left monuments such as the presidential Palacio de la
Moneda unusable for more than a decade, and damage to surrounding
buildings is still being repaired today. More enduring than pockmarked
walls has been the legacy of the Pinochet dictatorship's economic
program, which introduced an ethic of corporate consumerism. Santiago's
already critical air pollution was made far worse by the regime's
promotion of private automobile ownership. The city of 5 million
is one of South America's largest, but its congested city streets
and unwieldy urban sprawl are permanently characterized by a persistent
blanket of smog.