Chile: History&Legend

One of the most renowned legends about the origins of Chile goes like this:
An angel informs the Creator, "Lord, we have completed the design and construction of the five continents just as you instructed us to do. However, we find that we still have a variety of "leftover" materials: some lakes, rivers, glaciers, a desert, some forests and valleys: what can we do with these pieces of nature?"
"Well," the Creator responds, "What is the problem? Just fling them over there behind the Andes Mountains."
So was it done as the Creator had commanded. For many centuries, this varied combination of natural features remained hidden, submerged at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, until one day it rose to the surface in the shape of a long, narrow land mass.
This is the story of Chile.

Later on came the wildlife, the birds and insects and man.

The First Men:

There are three basic theories under debate about the origins of the first men to come to Chile:

a) The first theory indicates that lost navigators from the Polynesian islands arrived from across the Pacific to the southern coasts of Chile. Monte Verde, near the city of Puerto Montt, has been identified as showing signs of human presence dating back to AD.

b) The second theory sustains that the Pacific crossing was accomplished by Japanese seafarers seeking new territory, who landed off the coasts of Ecuador.

c) The third, and most widely ac cepted, theory teaches that nomad groups originating from Mongolia in Asia crossed the Bering Straits in Alaska and migrated slowly southwards, to give rise with the passing of the centuries to the development of the several distinctive civilisations of Central and South America.

The most prominent ethnic groups on the South American continent were, without doubt, the Mayas and the Aztecs, now occupying present-day Mexico and the Yucatan peninsula; the Incas in Peru; and the Aymaras in Bolivia. In Chilean territory, the most significant ethnic groups were the Chango, the Atacaman and the Diaguitas civilisations in the northern desert lands; the Huilliches and Mapuches (or Araucarians) in the central valleys and the southern lakelands; and the Onas, Alacalufes and Patagons in the remote confines of Patagonia. The largest ethnic group in Chile - the Mapuches or Araucarians - although not achieving the level of sophistication and development in the arts and sciences as the Mayas, Incas or Aymaras, have been recognised as great warriors who, in a struggle of over three centuries, were never defeated and overcome by the Spanish conquerors.

The Spanish Conquest and Colonisation of America:

On October 12th, 1492, Christopher Columbus arrived on the coast of Panama and the discovery of America was accomplished. In one of the ironies of history, the new continent was named not after the man who truly discovered it, but instead after Americo Vespuccio, another navigator and cartographer, a man no less brilliant than Columbus, who stepped on American soil seven years later in 1499, in what is now known as Venezuela.

At the beginning of the XVIth Century, a group of Spaniards comprising Francisco Pizarro, Diego de Almagro, Pedro de Valdivia and their soldiers headed south from Panama, initiating a process of conquest and colonisation which would transform South America and would have a transcendental impact on Europe itself.

In 1530 Pizarro set up base in Lima, and then in Cuzco, establishing the Spanish Vice-Regency of Peru. In 1535, Almagro left Cuzco in search of fame and fortune, and so the discovery of Chile came about. However, it was Pedro de Valdivia who saw Chile through different eyes; he became fascinated with what is - up to the present day - perhaps the country's main source of wealth - its natural resources and the great physical, geographical contrasts and exuberant variety of landscapes, the fertile valleys protected by those two powerful giants, the Andean Cordillera and the mighty Pacific Ocean.

From 1536 onwards, Pedro de Valdivia and those who followed him in the next three centuries of colonisation founded cities, built roads and planted crops, and in the absence of female companionship, intermarried with the indigenous women. In the case of Chile, 500 years after the Spanish conquest and in spite of having to accept a new cultural hegemony, the Mapuches have maintained their identity, their dignity and their struggle for the right to better conditions and to development under equal terms.

The Spanish dominated the majority of the territory of Central and South America with the exception of Brazil, which remained in Portuguese hands. Other Europeans, mainly the British, did not remain indifferent to the attraction of these new far-off lands. Francis Drake, followed by other famous seafarers and pirates, as far back as 1578 initiated their unceasing incursions into the Spanish dominions in this corner of the world.

Independence and the establishment of the Republics:

Globalisation is not merely a 20th Century achievement. Even though the occurrences were at a slower pace, the XVIIIth Century also witnessed epic journeys to Europe and the Americas of young visionaries and idealists such as the Venezuelans Francisco de Miranda, Simon Bolivar and Andres Bello; the Argentine José de San Martin, and the Chileans Jose Miguel Carrera and Bernardo O'Higgins. On their travels, they learned the military arts and the concepts of freedom and independence, proponents of which were instrumental in the forging of two such notable historical deeds as the formulation of the Declaration of Independence of the United States in 1776 and the ideas of the French Revolution in 1789.

Napoleon Bonaparte's incursion into Spain in 1808 to attack King Ferdinand VII was the green light for all the new nationalistic leaders in the new Spanish American territories to take the opportunity to close ranks with the country of their birth, and sever all links with the country of their Spanish forefathers. The liberation process was irreversible; Argentina declared independence on May 25; Chile on September 18th 1810, joining the ranks of newly free and independent nations.

In the case of Chile, the Free Trade Decree of 1811 put an end to the Spanish trade blockade and opened the doors to goods and services originating in other European nations and, later on, from the USA. In this way, the initiation of a spectacular increase in trade was followed logically by an increase in the flow of British, French, Italian and German immigrants. The innumerable wars, political and religious persecutions and famines across Europe formed the background to explain the irresistible magnetism of the country to young European emigrants, in search of more attractive horizons in distant lands which offered them the unlimited possibilities of a better quality of life.

The main Chilean city-port of Valparaiso, the "Valley of Paradise", was an obligatory port-of-call for ships from Europe en route through the Straits of Magellan to the coasts of California. Valparaiso deserves special mention as the major international maritime Pacific port for over one hundred years, before the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914 reduced maritime traffic to this part of the world.

The war between the United Stated of America and Great Britain, started in 1812, witnessed a lengthy battle between the English frigate Phoebe and the American ship Essex, which resulted in American sailors wounded or missing in the waters off the bay of Valparaiso. Some of the victims of that battle are buried in the Dissidents' Cemetery on Pantheon Hill in Valparaiso.

Valparaiso became not only the permanent and generous host to the thousands of immigrants who made up the clearly defined commercial and social activities of the community, but also became the stage for personalities who distinguished themselves, such as the Scottish Naval officer, Lord Thomas Cochrane through his brilliant naval tactics, the English naturalist Charles Darwin, artists such as Thomas Sommerscales, North American James Whistler, the Frenchman Raymond de Monvoisin, and the Bavarian Mauricio Rugendas; Nicaraguan Ruben Dario through his poetry; Argentine statesmen Domingo Faustino, Sarmiento, Bartolome Mitre and Juan Bautista Alberti; Colombian writer Juan Isaacs, Peruvians and the Nobel Laureates in Literature, Chilean poets Gabriela Mistral and Pablo Neruda.

In this unique context of natural geographical wonders, of exotic flora and fauna, of glorious historical conquests and timeless cultures, we have tried to rescue what to us is most relevant and fascinating that Chile can offer to visitors from far-off lands. Those who come to these shores will find in this country a welcome like few others can bestow; they will discover nature and wildlife, and historical deeds by men - both good and bad - which still have the capacity to astound/which will restore in them their capacity to be amazed.

The unanimous opinion amongst the international community is that the modern state of Chile has emerged as one of the most stable countries in South America, be it in terms of the institutional, political or economic conditions.

Chile extends for a distance of 4,200 kilometres (6,965 miles) from north to south, wedged between the length of the Andean Cordillera to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west, and averaging only 120 km (285 miles) in width. The republics of Bolivia and Peru form the northern frontiers, whilst the extreme south encompasses part of the continent of Antarctica.

Chile's extensive longitude allows it to incorporate extremes of geographical conditions and vegetation: in the harsh and desolate northern Altiplano or high plateau lands forming the frontier with Bolivia; soaring volcanic peaks such as the Ojos del Salado at 6,950 metres above sea level; the incomparable aridity and savage beauty of the Atacama Desert; the lush vegetation of the temperate rainforests stretching south from the frontier city of Temuco; the pristine perfection of the crystalline waters and snow-topped volcanoes of the Lake District; to the wild expanses of the Patagonian steppes and the mysterious land of Tierra del Fuego across the Straits of Magellan, with its oceanic connections to the barren stretches of the lost continent, Antarctica.

ACE Turismo Chile • Don Carlos 3255-A • Santiago-Chile • Tel: (56 2) 335 6230 • Fax: (56 2) 233 8207 • Email: info@aceturismo.cl