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Home/Stories and articles/Recovery
September 2003

Former "barrio" of La Chimba:
Independencia's portal

It was through current Independencia Avenue, in 1817, that the Liberation Army entered triumphally to Santiago. It can properly be called Chile's most ancient street, and so is registered in the prologue to the book Architectural Heritage of the Independence commune, edited by Universidad de Chile's Architecture School, the city of Independence and Chilean Cultural Heritage Corporation.

It is a variant of the Inca road and was, for centuries, the main access to Santiago. It was also the entrance door for the Spanish conquerors; the vital edge of a zone separated from the city by the Mapocho riverbed. For a long time it maintained its segregated condition, but —at the same time— a space of huge significance in its social, political, cultural, economical and religious development.

Crossing the wide area north of the Mapocho River, the conquerors arrived to Santiago in December 1540. An old pre-Hispanic settlement, the land known as La Chimba until the end of the Colony, was populated with Indian houses and agricultural fields irrigated by the Vitacura ditch. There, at the bottom of the Huechuraba hill —now, Cerro Blanco—, Pedro de Valdivia settled his camp before founding the new city, and after crossing from the Aconcagua valley the so-called "Chile road". This old road, currently Independencia Ave., was one of the variants of the Inca road and, for a long time, was the main communications link between Santiago and the country's north.

With the passing of time, the foundation of Santiago made that the area north of the river began being known as La Chimba, a Quechua expression that means "from the other band", because of its outsider condition. In fact, the rigid urban design never trespassed the river's north, where there grew a spontaneous housing for the Indians then serving the city and who were trying to keep their traditions from the inevitable process of cultural extinction.

With time, handcrafters' workshops were added. They made the effort that the city demanded. La Chimba, so strategically placed, became a space for an alternative lifestyle, characterized by the relax of the popular and peasant habits, and detached to the city's hurry.

Up north, the Spanish shared lands for the agriculture, so they could satisfy their families needs. There, Pedro de Valdivia had a wide field that was later divided into plots. Some of these lands were given to convents and monasteries that then settled in the zone taking advantage of the area's tranquility and isolation from the city. The first convent founded was that of the Recoleta Franciscana, in 1647, which promptly held the faith of La Chimba's growing population. There had to pass a whole century for the Recoleta Dominica to be built. In 1770, there was raised the San Rafael's Carmelites Descalzas Monastery.

Historical Avenue
The "Chile road" —baptized after the Conquest as "Cañada de La Chimba— became until the end of the Colonial period the "Royal Road of La Cañadilla". This name is related with its importance as the main entrance and exit road for the City, becoming the forced passage for all commerce coming from Buenos Aires and Cádiz through the Andes, or that going to Lima and Charcas trough the port of Valparaiso. At the riversides, from the north border of the Mapocho to the middle of Huechuraba, there were agricultural properties that were later destined to vineyards. At the banks, there were windmills that used the river's water.

In 1772, with the aim of uniting the river's both riversides -that were then only connected by a wooden bridge, there began the construction of the Cal y Canto bridge, one of the most ambitious works made until then. A few bricklayers and 80 prisoners began the rising of this enormous structure designed by the military engineer José Antonio Birt. It immediately changed the area's appearance. La Cañadilla was so directly connected with the city, leaving behind its isolation. At both sides of the road, there was the Corregidor countryhouse and the Carmelites convent, so the whole did make the Northern entrance to the city look more elegant, thanks to the work of the City's Corregidor, Luis Manuel de Zañartu.

Under Ambrosio O'Higgins' administration, during the 18th last decade, the old road became a street, and a series of improvements were made. Most of the original lands became pleasant suburban countryhouses with holiday houses for the Colonial's main people. For example, Bishop José Antonio Martínez de Aldunate, whose residence was demolished in 1973. The Cal y Canto bridge was also transformed: to the West, there were built some newstands, so there was born a fashionable stroll for pedestrians, horses and vehicles.

In 1808 it was built the Nuestra Señora del Carmen Church, La Cañadilla's main parish, which was destroyed by an earthquake in 1822. The new temple was raised in 1890.

At the end of the Colonial period, La Cañadilla had already been the stage for part of the City's history. Since the arrival of the Spanish conquerors, in 1540, there passed travelers and carts full of agricultural goods, and crowds had cheered some governor. But the most agitated period at the old Royal road, was that of the final years of the Colonial regime. After de "Rancagua disaster", in 1814, the "patriots" left the city by La Cañadilla, heading to Mendoza. Through that same road, in 1817, the Liberation Army returned triumphal after their victories at Coimas and Chacabuco, marking a glorious milestone in the history of that traditional road of access to the city. That explains the current name of the Independencia Avenue since the beginning of the 20th Century.

During Bernardo O'Higgins administration, there was built the General Cemetery, which was inaugurated in 1821, and where most of the most important figures of our republican History were buried. After the installation of the Republic, though, La Chimba did not change its peculiar characteristic as an area apart from the city. There are some stories of "stone wars" among "chimberos" and "Santiaguinos", who would use the Mapocho river as their battlefield, while hundreds watched. It's not until Vicuña Mackenna, Santiago's intendente between 1872 and 1875, that the belonging to that area is integrated to the rest of the city.

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