Long before the arrival of Christopher Columbus, a number of Native American tribes settled in the fertile valleys and coastal areas of what is present-day Chile.
In 1520, Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese sailor whose expedition completed the first circumnavigation of the world, became the first European to set foot on the Chilean shore during his discovery of the southern passage now named after him, the Strait of Magellan.
The Spanish conquest of Chile began in 1536, when Diego de Almagro and his band of Spanish conquistadors (conquerors) arrived from Peru seeking gold. Their expectations were not met, so they returned immediately to Peru, bringing back a discouraging report about the land.
In 1540, Pedro de Valdivia was granted permission to conquer and colonize the area. Valdivia and about 150 companions entered Chile toward the end of 1540, and founded the city of Santiago on February 12, 1541. They recognized the agricultural potential of Chile’s central valley. The area became part of the Spanish Empire, and thus began Chile’s “Colonial Period,” which lasted for more than two centuries.
Napoleon’s intervention in Spain in 1808 led many Spanish colonies in South America to take their first steps toward greater autonomy. A national junta of local leaders was formed in 1810, proclaiming Chile an autonomous republic within the Spanish monarchy.
Shortly thereafter, a movement for total independence gained popular support, and the Spanish Crown responded by attempting to re-impose its rule. This led to a period of prolonged conflict that became known as the “Reconquista” (the reconquering). It ended in 1818, when Chile was proclaimed an independent republic.
Republican Era and Immigration
The political revolt brought little social change; 19th century Chilean society preserved the essence of the stratified colonial structure. A strong presidency eventually emerged. The 1891 Chilean Civil War brought about a redistribution of power between the President and Congress, and the country established a parliamentary style democracy.
During this era and the beginning of the 20th century, a large wave of immigrants arrived from European nations such as Germany, Switzerland, France, Italy and England. The foreigners settled in different parts of the country and colonized new regions, which contributed to the gradual establishment of Chile’s present-day borders.