Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino

The encounter

Detalle de pintura mural, siglo XVIII

The 16th century Spanish enterprise: conquest and consequences

This historical review of the European conquest of the territory that would one day become Chile will take us on a journey through the occupation of that space and the encounter between distant and diverse worlds. It is a journey that seeks to understand how the Conquest imposed more than just a new system of political, administrative, economic and social organization on the American lands that were incorporated into the Spanish realm; what was at stake was the expansion of colonial control and the desire to achieve real sovereignty over this territory and its indigenous peoples.

The exploration and conquest of the Americas began in 1519 and the territory lying between the valleys of Copiapó and the Araucanía region was incorporated into the colonial history of this country under the name Reino de Chile (Kingdom of Chile), as though this human and geographical space had existed since time immemorial. The Europeans did not discover it. History did not begin in the desert, the valleys, the dense southern forests and archipelagos with the arrival of the Spaniards. Indeed, it was not until the end of the 19th century that Chile took on its present form through the annexation of Tarapacá, its Patagonian territory and its remote Pacific islands.

Our journey will commence with the conquest of the transversal valleys of the Semi-arid North, beginning with Diego de Almagro’s arrival at the gate of the Kingdom of Chile. It will continue through Central Chile, where Pedro de Valdivia was captivated by the valleys and possessed by a need to secure the European advance into South-central Chile. We will witness Almagro’s and Valdivia’s early explorations of the Arid North, and how this northern Spanish colonial space would ultimately be incorporated into what are now Peru and Bolivia. As the great European adventure progressed, our journey will continue by sea, first among the islands, canals and archipelagoes of the Far South—including a look at how these explorations affected the inhabitants of what is today Western Patagonia—then later, across the South Seas to Rapa Nui.

In these historic accounts of how these groups of strangers met, we can observe events as though we are looking through the lens of a camera. And in so doing, by looking directly at that which we find attractive, captivating, bothersome or tiring, we can see ourselves reflected, discovering not only how our gaze is composed, but also learning that the memories held in those accounts can be surprised by dreams, doubts, questions and even complaints.