Valdivia is a town in Southern Chile. It became the capital of the Los Ríos Region when it separated from Los Lagos Region in 2007. The history of this city goes back several centuries. A Spanish conqueror, Pedro de Valdivia, founded it in 1552 under the name "Santa María de la Blanca de Valdivia", becoming one of the first urban centers in Chile.
Located 530 miles south of Santiago, the city and its lifestyle are shaped by the biodiversity of its riverine forests. Valdivia’s urban fabric is crossed by numerous rivers, a fact that had led it to become a strategic position during colonial times. Although both European powers and Indigenous peoples attempted to take it over, Valdivia prevailed as a testament to the complex stronghold system of the Spanish Empire.
During the XVI century, Valdivia played an important role in the economy and politics of the Empire. However, after the Battle of Curalaba (1598) the Mapuche forces took control of the territory, sieging the city and destroying all the imperial settlements in the south by 1599. Repopulation started around mid-seventeenth century, mostly due to the geopolitical relevance as a military stronghold, rather than as an actual city. In 1740, Valdivia ceased its direct dependence of the Viceroyalty of Peru and became part of the Gobernación of Chile.
In the nineteenth century, Valdivia took part in the national conflicts, especially during the Independence Revolution and the territorial disputes between royalists and patriots. Finally, in 1820 the city was captured by the republican forces and remained a part of the Republic of Chile up until today.
In the nineteenth century, Valdivia took part in the national conflicts, especially during the Independence Revolution and the territorial disputes between royalists and patriots. Finally, in 1820 the city was captured by the republican forces and remained a part of the Republic of Chile up until today. From that point on, Valdivia has been incorporated into national and international economic and political processes. Around 1850, a public policy invited Germans to settle into the territory. As a consequence, Valdivia entered an intense period of industrialization, distinguishing it from other cities in the south. However, this industrial role did not last long. At the start of the twentieth century, a great fire consumed most of the city’s structures, followed by the Great Depression, and finally, the biggest earthquake in the history of mankind (1960) dramatically stalled Valdivia’s growth.
Consequently, contemporary Valdivia is a city torn between a challenging present and romantic visions of an industrial past. The latter is key to the touristic attractiveness of its landscape, with material vestiges decorating its streets and rivers. Valdivia is a monument to the contrast between rural and urban lifestyles, survival and productivity, tradition and an eagerness to show itself to the world.