Article Updated March, 2016
Chile is a country that honours its traditions and respects its past. Evidence to this lies firmly fixed in plaques and street signs all over the country; as well as the (many) public holidays and statues, Chile has a tendency to name streets, roads, buildings, monuments, towns, cities and regions after their more prominent forefathers. Here’s a list of some of the events and people, who, through their achievements and efforts, have earned a place in Chilean history and (lots and lots) of the street names of Chile.
Araucanians was the name given to the people who lived in Chile before it was colonised by the Spanish in the early 1500s. This term is now generally viewed as derogatory, and a more appropriate term is Mapuches. Throughout the time of colonisation, the Araucanians fought valiantly to retain their rights and property. They were eventually subdued. Examples of this name in use today are Parque Arauco mall and Parque Araucano park.
Christopher Columbus (Cristóbal Colón)
Italian-born Christopher Columbus is credited as being the man who discovered the American continent. In 1492, Columbus was under the employ of the Spanish Empire and was commissioned to look for a faster trade route to Asia. His journey was obstructed by a huge mass of land: Christopher Columbus had accidentally discovered the American continent.
Though he was actually aiming for Asia, finding an entirely new land caused great excitement back in Europe. It didn’t take long before more explorers were heading over to what is now called North, Central and South America.
Amerigo Vespucci (Américo Vespucio)
When news of Columbus’ find reached Europe, it led to a flurry of interest and activity. Many adventurers soon began leading expeditions to explore this new land. Among the first of these was the Italian explorer, Amerigo Vespucci. Between 1499 and 1502, Vespucci navigated the eastern coast of what is now called South America.
The main motorways around the city of Santiago are named Américo Vespucio for him.
Ferdinand Magellan (Hernando de Magallanes)
While delighted with the discovery of an entirely new (potential) stomping ground, the fact remained that as yet, no-one had discovered a faster route to Asia. Portuguese mariner, Ferdinand Magellan, appealed to the higher powers in Spain for the honour of being allowed to continue this search. He was granted permission and a fraught and dangerous journey ensued. He did, however, manage to find what he was looking for. On November 1, 1520, he discovered what is now known as the Magellan Strait.
The importance of this find was great – there was now a trade route that enabled (relatively) safe passage, without having to sail around Cape Horn, and therefore avoiding the turbulent and dangerous waters of the Drake Passage. There is a Santiago Metro station named for him.
Pedro de Valdivia
Pedro de Valdivia was a Spanish nobleman who had come to the new land to prove himself. While most of the colonisation had only gone as far south as Peru, Pedro de Valdivia voluntarily journeyed south, leaving the safety of the relatively well-known colonies. For his efforts and courage, he was the man who founded Santiago. In 1541, he named the city and began building works, originating at the base of Cerro Santa Lucía. The area immediately surrounding was designed and built to house officers and the other founding men.
Septembre 18th, 1810 is Chile’s version of Independence Day. Dieciocho (eighteen) is the day that marks Chile’s declaration that it was then emancipated from the Spanish royalist rule. The French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte had invaded Spain and plonked his brother, Joseph Bonaparte, on the throne. This violation of Spanish rule caused uproar in the colonies. Citizens of the Spanish Empire were not opposed to Spanish rule but to the French takeover, and their expectations of continued loyalty.
Although Dieciocho marks the day that Chile declared itself to be independent, actual independence came much later. Various parties (patriots, royalists, people trying to be royalists…) then fought for more than a decade (from 1810-1826) to dispute who was entitled and acceptable to govern the people of Chile. Eventually, the pseudo-royalist enforcers fell to the patriots and Chile was soon declared an independent country.
This date is remembered every year with a national holiday. Combined with Día de las Glorias del Ejército de Chile (The Day of the Glories of the Army), which is celebrated on September 19, these days are known as Fiestas Patrias and usually result in (most) Chileans having about a week off work.
General Bernardo O’Higgins
Bernardo O’Higgins was a Chilean military man, who is celebrated for being one of the great men who steered Chile out from underneath Napoleonic rule during the War of Independence. Though he was technically the second Supreme Director of Chile, he was the first to hold the post in an independent Chile. One of the main arterial roads in Santiago is named for him (Avenida Libertador (Liberator) General Bernardo O’Higgins), but is more commonly known as La Alameda. (La Alameda can be translated to “mall” or, according to this Wikipedia article, it means “a road surrounded by poplar trees”.)
For a full list of who has ever been in charge ever in Chile, see here.
After O’Higgins’ term in power came a period of disruption in the government. After a time, order was restored. The third presidente (president) to follow this time was Manual Montt, who was in office from 1851-1861. There is a Metro station on the Red line named for him, as well as the city of Puerto Montt. Montt also assisted Vicente Pérez Rosales (see below) and Antonio Varas de la Barra in founding and encouraging German immigrants to relocate to the north Patagonian city of Puerto Varas.
Vicente Pérez Rosales
Vicente Pérez Rosales, for whom a national park is named, was a Chilean diplomat. He founded the city of Puerto Varas and organised its (government-supported) colonisation by German immigrants. He named the city for a Chilean politician who was prominent at the time, Antonio Varas de la Barra. The city has a distinctly German feel.
Arturo Prat Chacón was a naval officer who earned his place in history in the naval Battle of Iquique in 1879. Prior to the War of the Pacific (1879-1883), Chile, Peru and Bolivia were struggling to keep the peace during arguments over land titles, given the success of the region’s saltpeter resources. When war broke out, the (then Peruvian) port town of Iquique became a valuable city to control. When Chilean forces made moves to take the Port of Iquique, the Peruvian navy engaged them in direct conflict.
Despite Arturo’s comparatively tiny fleet, he and his crews did not retreat and were soundly defeated, fighting until the end. Prat’s defences provided only a small obstruction to the Peruvian offensive, who were equipped with more men and more modern ships. While the battle lasted only a few hours, the courage, loyalty and sacrifice shown by Arturo Prat and his men, ensured their place in honoured Chilean history. According to Wikipedia (again), “”Arturo Prat” is the most ubiquitous street name across Chile.”
Esmeralda was the ship that naval officer Arturo Prat captained during the Battle of Iquique. A relatively small, wooden ship, Esmeralda was destroyed quickly by the ironclad ships used by the Peruvians. Keep an eye out for streets named for Esmeralda.
Manuel Jesús Baquedano González was a military man in the mid-late 1800s. He began his career as a soldier and rose to lofty positions such as Commander-in-chief of the Army (during the war of the Pacific) and roles within the top houses in government.
Though his father before him had also been an established figure in Chilean military history, it is indicated on Wikipedia (thanks, Wiki!) that all monuments that bear the name Baquedano are named for the son. There are several towns by this name, lots of streets, and a Metro station on the Red line.
José Victorino Lastarria Santander
Andrés de Jesús María y José Bello López was a scholar, poet, philosopher, politician and advisor (among other titles) in the mid 1800s. His work was greatly varied but his main international achievements were literary and political. There are several institutes around the world named for him, including a university here in Santiago.
11 de Septiembre
If you’ve been in Chile for even five minutes, you will have heard about its tumultuous political history. Regardless of your political views, it is fair to acknowledge that the country has survived some real tests in the last century.
In the early 1970s, Presidente Salvador Allende was at the helm of the country. While his government was socialist, Allende’s friendship with Fidel Castro (then, the prominent Communist leader of Cuba) caused concern that Chile would soon head in the same direction.
September 11 was the day that changed the course of the country’s history, though the outcome of this is regarded with some ambiguity. Supported by the U.S. government of the time (as was later revealed), military leader Augusto Pinochet and his Navy, Airforce and Carabineros counterparts led a hostile takeover of the Allende government. The takeover began in the early morning of September 11, 1973, and only took only a few hours – the President’s residence at the time, La Moneda, was surrounded, bombed, attacked and eventually entered. Allende, famously refusing to surrender, committed suicide.
The military then governed Chile for the next seventeen or so years, during which time, more than 3,000 Chilean citizens were known to be murdered, or just disappeared. Even now, exhumations are occasionally conducted to determine whether deaths that occurred during that time period were natural or not.
Eventually, in 1988, Augusto Pinochet conducted a referendum to offer the people of Chile a chance to return to a democratic government. The people voted in favour of change; recent news stories claim that Pinochet tried, unsuccessfully, to overturn the decision. Pinochet (and various colleagues) remained influential even after his demotion; he continued working as Commander-in-Chief of the Chilean Army until 1998; his presidential successor was Patricio Aylwin.
Augusto Pinochet was charged with numerous counts of human rights violations in 1998, after he had retired, but died in 2006 before he was brought to trial for those charges. Pinochet’s rule is remembered with varying degrees of disdain: some remember his rule with fear and horror, while some people consider his actions to have prevented Chile from a far worse eventuality.
Whatever your opinion, the date of the commencement of the junta (ruling council of a military dictatorship) is memorialised by the date, 11 de Septiembre. Avenida 11 de Septiembre was a main road running through Providencia in Santiago, in 2013 it was changed back it to its original title, Nueva Providencia. It’s likely that many tourist sites and guides have not made the change so keep that in mind when trying to get around town!
Note: This story was accurate when published. Please be sure to confirm all details directly with the sites in question before planning your trip.