The peoples of the Central Valley did not prove as fierce as their Mapuche neighbours; and were conquered by the Incas in about 1470. On his second visit to Chile, Pedro de Valdivia led an expedition southwards, founding Concepción in 1550 and a further seven cities south of the Río Biobío. The Mapuche insurrection of 1598 and the Spanish defeat at Curalabo in 1599 led the Spanish to withdraw north of the Río Biobío and concentrate their efforts in the Central Valley.

Here, the land and its inhabitants were divided up among the colonists to create the forerunner of the hacienda, which was to dominate social and economic life in Chile. The hacienda was a self-contained unit, producing everything it needed. There were no towns in the area but, from the 1740s, the Spanish crown attempted to increase its control over the region by founding settlements, including Rancagua (1743), San Fernando (1742), Curicó (1743), Talca (1742), Cauquenes (1742) and Linares (1755).

After Independence, the Río Biobío continued to be the southern frontier of white settlement until, in 1862, Colonel Cornelio Saavedra led an army south to build a line of 10 forts, each 4 km apart, between Angol and Collipulli. Following the occupation of the coast around Arauco in 1867, another line of forts was built across the Cordillera de Nahuelbuta. By 1881, the railway from Santiago had reached Angol, from where Chilean troops set out on the final campaign against the Mapuche.

Today, the Central Valley is the agricultural heartland of Chile, transformed in the past 30 years by the growth of commercial export agriculture and wine production. Since 1974, over 1,500,000 ha of trees have been planted in Regions VII, VIII and IX, mostly Monterrey Pine. Climatic conditions for forestry are particularly favourable inland from Arauco. The coast between Dichato and Arauco has also seen growth in fishing and fish-processing since the 1980s, while inland, swathes of vineyards are testament to Chile's importance as a producer of fine wines. Despite the decline of coal mining in the 1980s, Concepción and the surrounding area are an important industrial region in Chile.

Geography and climate

Encompassing three of the administrative regions of Chile, Regions VI (O'Higgins), VII (Maule) and VIII (Biobío), the Central Valley is a wide depression located between the Andes to the east and the Cordillera de la Costa to the west. The Andes gradually lose height as they continue southwards, although there are a number of high peaks east of Rancagua: Alto de los Arrieros (5000 m), El Palomo (4986 m), Tingiririca (4280 m). The northern parts of the region enjoy a Mediterranean climate, with a prolonged dry season, but with more rain than Santiago. Rainfall increases gradually from north to south, until around Concepción there is usually some rainfall each month. The Central Valley receives less rain than the coastal mountains, but temperatures vary more inland than in coastal areas. The coastal range is generally under 500 m, but south of the Río Biobío it forms a range of high peaks known as the Cordillera de Nahuelbuta. Five major rivers cross the Central Valley: the Rapel, Mataquito, Maule, Itata and Biobío.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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