Santiago, Chile

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Upscale Santiago at dawn with the snowcapped Andes in the background

Santiago (known officially in Spanish as Santiago de Chile) is Chile's capital and largest city. It is situated in the country's central valley, and administratively is a part of the Santiago Metropolitan Region. Santiago is home to nearly a third of the country's population, or 4,668,473 according to the 2002 census. Santiago is located at 33°29' South, 70°40' West (-33.48333, -70.667). (satellite images at [1] (,-70.63584&spn=0.11,0.18&t=k))



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Pedro Lira's 1889 painting of the founding of Santiago by Pedro de Valdivia at Huelén Hill

Santiago was founded by Pedro de Valdivia on February 12, 1541 with the name Santiago del Nuevo Extremo. The founding ceremony was held on Huelén Hill (later renamed Santa Lucía Hill). Valdivia chose the location of Santiago because of its moderate climate and the ease with which it could be defended—the Mapocho River split the area in two, and rejoined further downstream, forming an island.

The first buildings were erected with the help of the native Picunche Indians. 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 slightly damaged during the War of Independence (181018), in the Battle of Maipú, which was fought south-west of the city. Santiago was named capital 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 Chilean mint during the Spanish period, and a few churches and other civic buildings. 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 and the Museum of Fine Arts.

Santiago began its transformation to a modern city in the 1930s, with the building of the Barrio Cívico, surrounding El 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.

Santiago is now often considered an important financial center in Latin America.


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This building shaped like a giant cell phone and owned by a telecom company dominates part of the city's landscape

Santiago has a mild Mediterranean climate: relatively hot dry summers (November to March) with temperatures reaching up to 35 degrees Celsius on the hottest days; winters (June to August) are more humid, with typical maximum daily temperatures of 15 degrees Celsius, and minimums of a few degrees above freezing.

Mean rainfall is 360 mm per year.

Thermal inversion (a meteorogical 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. The government has attempted to reduce pollution by giving incentives for heavy industry to move out of the valley but such measures have seen limited results.

The Mapocho river, which crosses the city from the north-east to the south-west of the Central Valley, is contaminated by industrial and household sewage, dumped unfiltered into the river, and by upstream copper-mining waste (there are a number of copper mines in the Andes east of Santiago). The central government recently passed a law that forces industry and local (comuna) governments to process all their wastewater by 2006. There are now a number of large wastewater processing and recycling plants under construction.

Sound levels on the main streets are high, mostly because of noisy diesel buses. Diesel trucks and buses are also major contributors to winter smog.

Political divisions

Satellite image of Santiago
Satellite image of Santiago

The city of Santiago lies within the larger province of Santiago, which is divided into 32 municipalities (comunas in Spanish). Each municipality has 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.

List of municipalities


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Palacio de La Moneda in downtown Santiago
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Santiago's architecture is an uneven mixture of old and new. Pictured here is Plaza de Armas looking to the Metropolitan Cathedral
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Santiago Stock Exchange
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Santiago's Metropolitan Cathedral is located in Plaza de Armas downtown square
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Bellas Artes museum

The city has the largest concentration of higher-education institutions in the country.


Traditional (Public):

Non-Traditional (Private):


There are two symphonic orchestras:

  • Orquesta Filarmónica de Santiago, which performs in the Teatro Municipal
  • Orquesta Sinfónica de Chile, dependent of the Universidad de Chile, performs in its theater.


Museums include:


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A metro (subway) station in Santiago
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A micro in downtown Santiago
  • Santiago has an extensive, if chaotic, privately-run bus system. The buses, known as micros (for microbus), are typically colored yellow. This private system is in the process of being replaced by a new one called Transantiago ( with larger, newer buses, and an improved payment system, which will be compatible with that already used by the "Metro" subway. The replacement process is expected to be completed by August, 2006.
  • The Santiago Metro has three operating lines but their coverage is still somewhat limited. The Government is building an additional Metro line (Line 4), and extensions to Lines 1 and 2. See Metro Santiago (
  • 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.
  • Trains connect Santiago to Puerto Montt, in the central-southern part of the country. All such trains arrive and depart from the Estación Central (Central Station).
  • Private inter-urban bus companies provide excellent and cheap transportation from Santiago to virtually any part of the country.
  • Santiago's national and international airport is Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport.

Places to visit

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