In the 16th century the northern half of Chile was part of the Inca Empire. Fierce Araucanian Indians inhabited the south. In 1535 Diego de Almagro, one of the conquerors of Peru, led the first Spanish expedition into Chile. Five years later Pedro de Valdivia set out from Peru to conquer the region. He founded Santiago in 1541 and continued south until halted by the Araucanians.

Colonization of Chile was slow, primarily because the Spaniards found no precious metals. Settlement was concentrated in the fertile Central Valley, where the land was divided into a number of large estates and agriculture flourished. In the south fierce Indian resistance was maintained throughout the colonial period. The region, of little economic importance in the Spanish empire, was largely neglected.

Important dates in Chile
Late 1400's Indian groups in northern Chile were conquered by the Inca Indians of Peru.
1520 Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese navigator, became the first European to sight Chile.
1541 Pedro de Valdivia, a Spaniard, founded Santiago.
1818 Chile won independence from Spain.
1833 A new Chilean Constitution established a strong central government and made Roman Catholicism the state religion.
1925 Another new Chilean Constitution provided for direct election of the president by the people and separated church and state.
1939 The Chilean government created an economic development corporation.
1970 Salvador Allende Gossens was elected president of Chile. He became the first democratically elected Marxist to head a nation in the Western Hemisphere.
1973 Military leaders overthrew the Allende government.
1980 A new Chilean Constitution provided for a gradual return to democratic government in the 1990's.
1989 Elections for president and a legislature led to a return to a democratic civilian government.
2006 Chileans elected Michelle Bachelet president. She was the first woman to be elected president of Chile.