Chile The first European to visit what is now Chile was the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who landed at Chilo Island following his voyage, in 1520, through the strait that now bears his name. The region was then known to its native population as Tchili, a Native American word meaning “snow.” At the same time of Magellan’s visit, most of Chile south of the Rapel River was dominated by the Araucanians, a Native American tribe remarkable for its fighting ability. The tribes occupying the northern portions of Chile had been subjugated during the 15th century by the Incas of Peru. In 1535, after the Spanish under Francisco Pizarro had completed their conquest of Peru, Diego de Almagro, one of Pizarro’s aides, led a gold-hunting expedition from that country overland into Chile. The expedition spent nearly three fruitless years in the country and then withdrew to Peru.
Chile is a republic in southwestern South America, bounded on the north by Peru, on the east by Bolivia and Argentina, and on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean. It has an extreme northern-southern length of approximately 4270 km (about 2650 mi), but its average width is less than 180 km (less than 110 mi). Archipelagoes extend along the southern Chilean coast from Chilo Island to Cape Horn, the southernmost point of the South American continent. Among these are the Chonos Archipelago, Wellington Island, and the western portion of Tierra del Fuego. Other islands belonging to Chile include the Juan Fernndez Islands, Easter Island, and Sala y Gmez, all of which lie in the South Pacific.
The country has a total area of 756,626 sq km (292,135 sq mi). Chile also claims a section of Antarctica. The country’s capital and largest city is Santiago. Two lively and contrasting cultural strains predominate in Chile: the cosmopolitan culture of the affluent urban population and the popular culture of the peasants, which is predominantly Spanish but contains traces of Araucanian heritage. The latter influences are strongest in Chilean music and dance.
Chile has a flourishing literary tradition and has produced two Nobel Prize winners in literature, Gabriela Mistral and Pablo Neruda, both poets.