Approximately two decades of uninterrupted economic growth have transformed Santiago into one of Latin America's most modern metropolitan areas, with extensive suburban development, dozens of shopping malls, and impressive high-rise architecture. The city has some of Latin America's most modern transportation infrastructure, such as the growing Santiago Metro (the metropolitan underground train system) and the new Costanera Norte, a toll-based highway system that passes below downtown and connects the Eastern and Western extremes of the city in a 25-minute drive. Santiago is headquarters to many important companies and is a regional financial center.
Throughout this article the term Santiago will normally refer to the Greater Santiago area; however, there are several other entities which bear the name of Santiago and need to be explained: The commune (comuna) of Santiago (sometimes referred to as Santiago Centro), is a subdivision of the Santiago Province, which is itself a subdivision of the Santiago Metropolitan Region. The commune is administered by the Santiago municipality (Municipalidad de Santiago), a separate legal entity with an elected mayor and council. It encompasses the oldest part of Greater Santiago —that enclosed by old rail lines— including downtown, and houses all major government infrastructure, including the government palace La Moneda. It has an area of and a population of 200,792 (2002 census).
Santiago was founded by Spanish Conquistador Pedro de Valdivia on February 12, 1541 with the name Santiago del Nuevo Extremo, as a homage to Saint James and Extremadura, Valdivia's birth place in Spain. The founding ceremony was held on Huelén Hill (later renamed Cerro Santa Lucía). Valdivia chose the location of Santiago because of its climate, abundant vegetation and the ease with which it could be defended—the Mapocho River then split into two branches and rejoined further downstream, forming an island.
The first buildings were erected with the help of the native Picunche. The south bank of the Mapocho River was later drained and converted into a public promenade, known as the Alameda (now Avenida Alameda Libertador Bernardo O'Higgins). The city was built following the traditional Hispanic grid pattern used in American colonies, made up of 126 square blocks of 138 varas in length separated by 12 varas wide lanes. A main square was located at the city's center, along with a chapel, some warehouses, and the dwellings of the most important residents. The first settlers formed a cabildo or town council for administrative purposes. The Santiago council became the administrative center of all of Chile, while Spanish forces continued their conquest southward. The Council was freed from its executive and military power when the Spanish King named a new governor for Chile. Because the governor had its residence in Santiago, the city became the capital of the Kingdom of Chile.
The first few years of settling were harsh and proved to be a great endeavor. Mineral wealth was rare, the near surroundings did not provide with sufficient foods and the indigenous inhabitants fiercely refused to be subjugated by the invaders. On September 11, 1541 the city was completely destroyed by native forces under the chief Michimalonco, endangering the whole process of colonization. During the 1550s Santiago was able to consolidate its position thanks to the construction of the Port of Valparaíso, which allowed for speedier reinforcements and provisions from Peru. it also became more peaceful as the conflict with the Indians moved south, which gave the inhabitants more time and resources to invest in the city. The Spanish King acknowledged this progress and conferred Santiago the title of city along with a coat of arms in April 5 1552.
With the Disaster of Curalaba in 1599, several settlers from the south of Chile took refuge in Santiago, and the city's population grew exponentially. The city was severely damaged by earthquakes in 1647 and 1730. During the War of Independence (1810–18), in the Battle of Maipú, which was fought south-west of the city, there was only slight damage. Santiago was named capital of the republic in 1818.
During the early 19th century, Santiago remained a small town with few buildings excepting Palacio de La Moneda, the building used as the colonial mint, and a few churches and other civic buildings. The Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús caught fire during an 1863 church service, and 2000 people died, one of the worst modern fires.
In the 1880s extraction of nitrate fertilizer in Northern Chile brought prosperity to the country, and promoted the capital city's development. Important landmarks were built in 1910 during the Centennial celebrations of independence from Spain, such as the National Library, the Museum of Fine Arts and the Mapocho Train Station (Estación Mapocho, now an events center).
Santiago began its transformation into a modern city in the 1930s, with the building of the Barrio Cívico, surrounding Palacio de La Moneda. The city also grew in population, due to migration from the north and south of Chile. In 1985 an earthquake destroyed some historically significant buildings in the downtown area.
Nowadays, Santiago is among the largest and most important financial centers in Latin America.
The city lies in the center of the Santiago Basin, a large bowl-shaped valley consisting of a broad and fertile plain surrounded by mountains. It is flanked by the main chain of the Andes on the east and the Chilean Coastal Range on the west. On the north, it is bound by the Cordón de Chacabuco, a transverse mountain range of the Andes, whereas at the southern border lies Angostura de Paine, where an elongated spur of the Andes almost reaches the Coastal Range. Santiago Basin is part of the Intermediate Depression and is remarkably flat, interrupted only by a few hills. Among those are Cerro Renca, Cerro Blanco and Cerro Santa Lucía.
The Andes mountains around Santiago are quite tall, culminating in Tupungato volcano at . Other volcanoes include Tupungatito, San José and Maipo. Cerro El Plomo is the highest mountain visible from Santiago's urban area.
Thermal inversion (a meteorological phenomenon whereby a stable layer of warm air holds down colder air close to the ground) causes high levels of smog and air pollution to be trapped and concentrate within the Central Valley during winter months. In the 1990s air pollution fell by about one-third, but there has been little progress since 2000.
As of March 2007, only 61% of the wastewater in Santiago was treated , which increased up to 71% by the end of the same year, however, the Mapocho river, which crosses the city from the north-east to the south-west of the Central Valley, remains contaminated by household, agricultural and industrial sewage, and by upstream copper-mining waste (there are a number of copper mines in the Andes east of Santiago), being dumped unfiltered into the river. Laws force industry and local governments to process all their wastewater, but are loosely enforced. There are now a number of large wastewater processing and recycling plants under construction. There are ongoing plans to decontaminate the river and make it navigable.
Noise levels on the main streets are high , mostly because of noisy diesel buses. Diesel trucks and buses are also major contributors to winter smog. A lengthy replacement process of the bus system began in 2005 and will last until 2010 (see Transportation section below).
The population of Santiago's urban agglomeration grew from 0.982 million in 1940 to 2.82 million in 1970 and 4.75 million in 1992. According to the 2002 census, it contains a population of 5,428,590, equivalent to nearly 36% of the total population of the country and 42% of the total urban population, making it one of the largest cities in Latin America. Santiago's Metropolitan Area, according to an official estimate from 2006, has a population of 6.293 million people.
Santiago is the industrial and financial center of Chile, and generates 45 percent of the country's GDP. The city, along with São Paulo and Buenos Aires, is one of the main financial centres of South America. Some international institutions, such as ECLAC (Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean), have their offices in Santiago.
In recent years, due to the strong growth and stability of the Chilean economy , many multinational companies have chosen Santiago as the place for their headquarters in the region, such as HP, Reuters, Procter & Gamble, JP Morgan, Intel, Coca-Cola, Unilever, Nestlé, Kodak, BHP Billiton, IBM, Motorola, Microsoft, Ford, Yahoo!, and many more.
The construction sector is booming in Santiago. Several large apartment complexes are being built throughout the city and construction cranes are a common sight. Currently under construction is the Costanera Center, a mega project in Santiago's Financial District. This includes a mall, a tower, two office towers of each, and a hotel tall. When completed in 2010 it will be the tallest building in South America. Near Costanera Center another skyscraper is being built, Titanium La Portada, and this will be tall. Although these are the two biggest projects, there are many other office buildings under construction in Santiago, as well as hundreds of high rise residential buildings.
Comodoro Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport is Santiago's national and international airport.
Trains operated by Chile's national railway, Empresa de los Ferrocarriles del Estado, connect Santiago to Chillan, in the central-southern part of the country. All such trains arrive and depart from the Estación Central ("Central Station").
Bus companies provide passenger transportation from Santiago to most areas of the country, while some also provide parcel-shipping and delivery services.
Toll road, inter-urban free flow highways connect the city's extremes, including the Vespucio Highway (which surrounds the city describing a semi-circle), Autopista Central (which crosses the city in a North-South direction), and the Costanera Norte (which runs from the eastern edge, in Las Condes to the international airport and the highways to Valparaíso on the western side of the city).
The Santiago Metro has five operating lines. Two subway lines (Line 4 and 4A) and an extension of Line 2 were inaugurated during late 2005 and 2006. The system is under expansion, and extensions are going to be built on Lines 1 and 5 throughout 2009 and 2010.
Transantiago is the name for the city's public transport system. It works by combining local (feeder) bus lines, main bus lines and the Metro network. It includes an integrated fare system, which allows passengers to make bus-to-bus or bus-to-metro transfers for the price of one ticket, using a single contactless smartcard.
Taxicabs can usually be found on the streets and are painted black with yellow roofs; unmarked taxis may be called up by telephone (Radiotaxis). Colectivos are shared taxicabs that carry passengers along a specific route, for a fixed fee.
The province of Santiago is divided into 32 municipalities (comunas in Spanish). Each municipality in Chile is headed by a mayor (alcalde) elected by voters every four years. The members of the municipal council (concejales) are elected in the same election on a separate ballot.
|Communes in Santiago Province|
|Communes in other provinces|
There are also various jazz establishments, the most notable being the Club de Jazz in Ñuñoa. The city has a very vibrant underground music scene. Some of its most popular venues are La Batuta in Ñuñoa and Blondie's disco in downtown Santiago.
The city's main parks are:
Modern ski resorts within an hour's drive east from the city include:
Some of the country's most important winegrowing areas lie in the nearby Maipo and Aconcagua Valleys. Several vineyards are located in this area.
Cultural places to visit include:
Main Sport Venues:
Most of Chile's population is Catholic and Santiago is no exception. According to the National Census, carried out in 2002 by the National Statistics Bureau (INE), in the Santiago Metropolitan Region, 3,129,249 people 15 and older identified themselves as Catholics, equivalent to 68.7% of the total population, while 595,173 (13.1%) described themselves as Evangelical Protestants. Around 1.2% of the population declared themselves as being Jehovah's Witnesses, while 0.9% identified themselves as Latter-day Saints (Mormons), 0.25% as Jewish, 0.11% as Orthodox and 0.03% as Muslim. Approximately 10.4% of the population of the Metropolitan Region stated that they were atheist or agnostic, while 5.4% declared to follow other religions.