Our South American Neighbors - G. Southworth

Santiago and Chile—the Slim Country

Santiago is the capital of a strange, slim country, a country which is not particularly strange in regard to its people, its government, or its products, but which, nevertheless, is very strange in regard to its shape. Because of this shape Chile has been compared with a sabre or a sword—a most fitting simile because of the brave and proud character of its people. So long and narrow is it that, as one writer has said, "If Italy is a boot and France a teapot, surely Chile, twenty times as long as it is broad, is an eel."

Fancy a nation living on a strip of territory from one hundred to two hundred and forty-eight miles wide—no wider in some places, in fact, than the distance from Philadelphia to New York—but so long that, if laid from east to west upon the United States with one end at New York, it would stretch away out across our continent to eastern California. Chile is the longest and narrowest country in the world. The country covers an area about equal to the size of our two states, Texas and Virginia, combined.

[Illustration] from Our South American Neighbors by G. Southworth


On the map of South America, Chile appears to be little more than a mountain range, extending along the Pacific coast for more than half the length of the grand division. In surface and climate, Chile, from north to south, is much like our Pacific coast from south to north. Chile's rainless north is the counterpart of lower California. Central Chile, with its plain running between the lofty Andean range and the low Coast range, has been called a vest-pocket edition of California's valley. And Chile's one great seaport, Valparaiso, despite its insecure harbor, is San Francisco to the South Pacific. In the southern part of Chile the coast range forms an archipelago. Here Chile's coast reminds us of the coast of southern Alaska.

[Illustration] from Our South American Neighbors by G. Southworth


Because Chile has three different, distinct climates, the northern, central and southern parts of the country differ greatly in industries and products. The northern part is the chief source of Chile's wealth, the reason for her rank among the most important countries of South America. This northern section is a hot, dry desert, a desert so dry that, in some places, water has to be brought in pipes from the Andes over a hundred miles. Yet in this desert are great beds of nitrate of soda, nature's chief gift to Chile. That does not sound very interesting, but if it were not for this product we might not be able to grow our greatest and best crops.

[Illustration] from Our South American Neighbors by G. Southworth


Nitrate of soda, commonly known as saltpeter, is a wonderful fertilizer for soil. We use vast quantities of it in the United States, and every year more than a million tons are shipped to Europe from Chile's desert.

Iodine is another product of the nitrate rock, being a valuable chemical much used in photography and for making dyes and many kinds of drugs.

On this barren, northern coast of Chile, which would otherwise be quite uninhabited, whole cities have grown up as a result of the nitrate industry. Chief of these is Iquique, Chile's most important nitrate center, and, in fact, the leading nitrate port of the world. Antofagasta, another desert city, is important as a silver as well as nitrate center. Here is the largest smelting plant in South America. In its huge furnaces the silver is smelted out of the ore, which is brought down from the Andes.

Further down the coast, at Coquimbo, great shiploads of copper are exported. This reddish-brown metal is smelted into the form of long bars and bricks. Much copper, both copper ore and copper bars, is sent to the United States. The total amount of Chile's copper is greater and, therefore, of greater value to her than her silver.

So much for the north. Now for central Chile, the land of plenty. A few miles in from the coast and just over the low coast mountains there are orange and lemon groves, large vineyards and almost all kinds of fruit trees. This is the long valley of Chile, one of the finest fruit-raising regions of all South America where grows almost every product of the soil that we produce in the United States.

Without her valley, Chile would be the poorest agricultural country on the southern continent; with it she is the richest for her size. The pleasant, semi-tropical climate of this central region, the garden of Chile, is very different from the climate of the dry, tropical, thinly populated north.

[Illustration] from Our South American Neighbors by G. Southworth


You wonder what causes these two distinct climates; why the northern part of Chile is a dry desert, and the greater part of central and southern Chile a well-watered and exceedingly fertile country. It is all because of the winds. The desert exists because it lies in the path of the east trade wind and all the moisture which this wind brings from the Atlantic has been drained out before the mountains are crossed and the western slope is reached.

The wind which blows over central and southern Chile, however, comes from a different direction, not from over the land but from over the sea. As it crosses the warm waters of the Pacific, the air absorbs much moisture; and as it reaches the cooler parts of Chile, the difference in the temperature condenses the moisture into rain, thus affording these parts of the republic a plentiful rainfall.

In central Chile agriculture is the chief industry. Wheat, barley, corn, oats, sugar, tobacco, grapes and other fruits are raised in large quantities. There are few countries in the world where farms are so large and their owners so rich. This great food-producing region is the home of five-sixths of the republic's entire population.

[Illustration] from Our South American Neighbors by G. Southworth


Southern Chile is much colder—remember its distance from the Equator. The mountains in the southern section are forest covered and lumbering is a profitable and important industry. The principal trees are the Chilean pine, the oak from which ships, cars and vehicles are made, the cypress, walnut, cedar, ash and beech. Much coal and quite a quantity of gold are mined in the south, near Punta 'Arenas, a lonesome little city, in fact, the southern-most city of the world. Cattle, horse and sheep raising, the wool industry and the manufacture of leather are being greatly developed in southern Chile. And leather, hides, wool and frozen meat are among the country's exports.

Both the capital and chief seaport of the republic are in the central section. Valparaiso, the seaport, is the largest Pacific port of all South America. The bay of Valparaiso is shaped like a great half-moon and is walled with steep hills covered with luxuriant trees and beautiful flowers. Many of Chile's imports enter through the city of Valparaiso. Chief among them are textiles, sugar, machinery and agricultural implements, bags and bagging and petroleum.

Santiago, the capital, lies one hundred and seventeen miles to the east of Valparaiso. With its population of 415,000, Santiago in many respects resembles our National Capital.

Santiago, on the small river Mapocho, lies in a great amphitheatre, whose highest sides are the snowy Andes, while its lower tiers are the small mountains toward the coast. Because of the natural beauty of the country surrounding Santiago, and the grandeur of the mountain scenery farther south, Chile has been called the "Italy of South America."

Perhaps the most picturesque hill in any city of the world is that of Santa Lucia in the heart of Santiago. This hill is a mass of volcanic rocks, rising to a height of some three hundred feet from a base of a little more than an acre. Its original scanty soil has been added to by the gardeners, and beautiful trees and exquisite flowers and vines have been grown. Fountains splash bright waters in the sunlight. Marble statues gleam against the green at every turn. Beautiful grottoes look inviting with their cool shade; and paths and roads wind everywhere. Santa Lucia, like a great hanging garden above the city, is indeed the park of parks in Santiago.

[Illustration] from Our South American Neighbors by G. Southworth


The chief street of the Chilean capital is the great boulevard, Alameda. It is twice as wide as Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, and runs the full length of the city. There are rows of tall poplar trees bordering it, and the finest private houses in Santiago front on the Alameda.

The architecture of the city is of Spanish style. The houses are built very close to the street, in some instances bordering the very pavement. Although of vast size, they are seldom more than two stories high. The large homes are built in the form of a great hollow square, with beautiful gardens in the open center or court.

Near the Plaza de Armas, a very beautiful park, stands the splendid cathedral of Santiago, with the palace of the Archbishop next door.

Another important public building in the capital city is the National University, which is attended by over a thousand students. Chile has now a good public school system, similar to our own. Because of their intelligence and bright, enterprising ways, the Chileans are often called the Yankees of South America.

The Moneda, built of massive stone, was once the national mint. It is now the residence of the President of the republic and contains most of the offices of the Chilean government.

The government of Chile is fashioned after ours of the United States, the country having been a democratic republic since the year 1833. One interesting difference in their constitution is the fact that the President of Chile is elected for a term of five years instead of four as in our country.

[Illustration] from Our South American Neighbors by G. Southworth


The Chileans are great lovers of amusement. Horse-racing is very popular in Santiago, as in Buenos Aires. The people of Chile are also enthusiastic lovers of football. They are fond of music and dancing, have many concerts in Santiago's parks, and spend much time in the pleasant out-of-doors.

The women of Santiago are considered unusually beautiful, being refined, active and not as stout as is usual in tropical countries. Rich and poor alike, they all wear the manto  over their heads when they go to church. The manto is a sort of black shawl, folded in such a way that it is very becoming to the wearer.

In Santiago most of the street car conductors are women. This is true of all the chief cities of Chile. They stand on the rear platform and make change from the money in their neat, white apron pockets.

The custom was introduced when Chile was at war with Peru and Bolivia and the men were all needed for soldiers. The women proved to be so much more efficient than men that they were continued in service after the war.

Santiago has good railway connections with the other cities of Chile. And Chile, in turn, has good railway connections with the other countries of South America. Still more lines are being built. One recent road crosses the Andes and joins the Chilean city, Valdivia, on the Pacific, with the Argentine port, Bahia Blanca, on the Atlantic.

[Illustration] from Our South American Neighbors by G. Southworth


One of the most important lines in Chile to-day is the Trans-Andean railroad which connects Valparaiso with Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina. Before this railroad was built, the voyage from Valparaiso to Buenos Aires through the Strait of Magellan took from fourteen to sixteen days. Now passengers can be carried by rail across the continent in twenty-nine hours.

At the point where the Trans-Andean route crosses the boundary line between Argentina and Chile, stands an heroic bronze figure of Christ. This statue, called "The Christ of the Andes," is in commemoration of the treaty of peace entered into by these two neighboring countries. On a tablet is the inscription:

"Sooner shall these mountains crumble to dust than the people of Argentina and Chile break the peace to which they have pledged themselves at the feet of Christ, the Redeemer."

[Illustration] from Our South American Neighbors by G. Southworth


The South American republics are teaching many worthwhile lessons to all the world. Surely not the least of these can be read from Chile's commemoration tablet. When a nation, whose people are largely descendants of the war-like Spaniards and wily Indians, vows with a neighbor to keep peace until the "mountains crumble to dust," that nation sets a high standard by its example.

Questions for Review and Study

  1. Describe the shape of Chile and compare it in size with the United States.
  2. Compare Chile and our Pacific coast as to surface and climate.
  3. What is the chief product of northern Chile and for what is it used?
  4. Give the other products of the northern section.
  5. What part of Chile has been called the land of plenty? Why?
  6. How does the climate of this section differ from that of the northern?
  7. What accounts for the difference?
  8. Name the chief industry of central Chile and its products.
  9. What are the industries of southern Chile?
  10. Name, locate and describe Chile's capital and chief seaports.
  11. What form of government has Chile?