Destruction of the Seven Cities

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Settlements of the Conquistadores before the Destruction of the Seven Cities Pedro De Valdivia Siedlungen in Chile 1540 bis 1553.jpg
Settlements of the Conquistadores before the Destruction of the Seven Cities
Anganamon a key Mapuche leader in the Destruction of the Seven Cities. Image from the book Relacion del viaje de Fray Diego de Ocana por el Nuevo Mundo (1599-1605). Anganamon.JPG
Anganamón a key Mapuche leader in the Destruction of the Seven Cities. Image from the book Relación del viaje de Fray Diego de Ocaña por el Nuevo Mundo (1599-1605).

The Destruction of the Seven Cities (Spanish : Destrucción de las siete ciudades) is a term used in Chilean historiography to refer to the destruction or abandonment of seven major Spanish outposts in southern Chile around 1600 caused by the Mapuche and Huilliche uprising of 1598. The Destruction of the Seven Cities is in traditional historiography the defining event that marks the end of the Conquest period and the beginning of the proper colonial period.


The Destruction of the Seven Cities had a long-lasting impact for the history of Mapuche and the history of Chile. Colonial Spanish–Mapuche relations became shaped by these events which meant among other things the development of a Spanish–Mapuche frontier.

Course of events

Decades prior to the events some conquistadors and settlers recognised the fragility of Spanish rule in southern Chile. In 1576 Melchior Calderón wrote to the King of Spain arguing for diminishing the number of cities in southern Chile by merging them, he proposed to merge Concepción, Angol, and Tucapel into one and La Imperial and Villarrica into another one. [1]

The revolt was triggered by the news of the Battle of Curalaba on 23 December 1598, where the vice toqui Pelantaru and his lieutenants, Anganamón and Guaiquimilla, with three hundred men ambushed and killed the Spanish governor Martín García Óñez de Loyola and nearly all his companions. [2] [3]

Over the next few years, the Mapuche were able to destroy or force the abandonment of many cities and minor settlements including all the seven Spanish cities in Mapuche territory south of the Biobío River: Santa Cruz de Coya (1599), Santa María la Blanca de Valdivia (1599, reoccupied in 1602 and abandoned again in 1604), San Andrés de Los Infantes (1599), La Imperial (1600), Santa María Magdalena de Villa Rica (1602), San Mateo de Osorno (1603), and San Felipe de Araucan (1604). [4]

Death toll and fate of captives

Contemporary chronicler Alonso González de Nájera writes that Mapuches killed more than 3,000 Spanish and took over 500 women as captives. Many children and Spanish clergy were also captured. [5] Skilled artisans, renegade Spanish, and women were generally spared by the Mapuches. [5] In the case of the women it was, in the words of González de Nájera, "to abuse them" (Spanish: aprovecharse de ellas).

While some Spanish women were recovered in Spanish raids, other were set free only in agreements following the Parliament of Quillín in 1641. [5] Some Spanish women became accustomed to Mapuche life and stayed voluntarily among the Mapuche. [5] The Spanish understood this phenomenon as a result either of women's weak character or their genuine shame over having been abused. [5] Women in captivity gave birth to a large number of mestizos, who were rejected by the Spanish but accepted among the Mapuches. [5] These women's children may have had a significant demographic impact in the Mapuche society, which was long ravaged by war and epidemics. [5]

The capture of women during the Destruction of the Seven Cities initiated a tradition of abductions of Spanish women in the 17th century by Mapuches. [5]


Central Chile becomes the Spanish heartland

The collapse of the Spanish cities in the south following the battle of Curalaba (1598) meant for the Spaniards the loss of both the main gold districts and the largest sources of indigenous labour. [6] After those dramatic years the colony of Chile became concentrated in Central Chile which became increasingly populated, explored and economically exploited. [7] Much land in Central Chile was cleared with fire during this period. [8] On the contrary open fields in southern Chile were overgrown as indigenous populations declined due to diseases introduced by the Spanish and intermittent warfare. [9] The loss of the cities meant Spanish settlements in Chile became increasingly rural [10] with the hacienda gaining importance in economic and social matters. [11]

The establishment of a Spanish-Mapuche frontier in the south made Concepción assume the role of "military capital" of Chile. [12] This informal role was given by the establishment of the Spanish Army of Arauco in the city which was financed by a payments of silver from Potosí called Real Situado. [12] Santiago located at some distance from the war zone remained the political capital since 1578. [12]

Chiloé, Indios reyunos, Carelmapu and Calbuco

When Valdivia and Osorno were destroyed Spanish settlers and loyal yanakuna marched south escaping hostile Cuncos and Huilliches. Reaching Chacao Channel next to Chiloé the refugees were assigned to two new settlements, Calbuco and Carelmapu. [13] Loyalty towards the Spanish in these difficult times was rewarded to the yanakuna by giving them exemption from encomienda labour and turning them into a militia with a salary from the Real Situado. [13] Thus they became known as Indios reyunos, literally meaning "Royal Indians" or "Kingly Indians". [13] 300 of the initial 600 indios reyunos settled in Calbuco. [13]

The Destruction of the Seven Cities meant the Spanish settlements at Chiloé became cut off from remaining Spanish possessions. Thus Chiloé developed as an isolated and highly peripheral Spanish outpost. [14]

Dutch interest in Valdivia

The abandoned city of Valdivia turned into an attractive site for Spain's enemies to control since it would allow them to establish a base amidst Spain's Chilean possessions. [15] Recognizing this situation the Spanish attempted to reoccupy Valdivia in the 1630s but were thwarted by hostile Mapuches. [16] The Dutch briefly occupied Valdivia in 1643. [15] Having been told that the Dutch had plans to return to the location, the Spanish viceroy in Peru sent 1,000 men in twenty ships (and 2,000 men by land, who never made it) in 1644 to resettle Valdivia and fortify it. [17] [18]

Spanish reflections on the war

The dire situation of the Spanish war efforts in Chile in the 17th century caused it to be compared to that of the Eighty Year's War, with Chile having turned into "Indian Flanders" (Flandes indiano) in the view of Diego de Rosales. [19] Purén indómito is a contemporary literary chronicle describing some of the events (1598–1600) surrounding the Destruction of the Seven Cities. It stands out for its realist and raw commentaries as well as critique of both Spanish and Mapuche. [20] Purén indómito and the military analysis of La guerra de Chile (published in 1647) challenged traditional Spanish views of Conquest of Chile as an "epic" series of "victories". [21]

Related Research Articles

Huilliche people Ethnic group

The Huilliche[wi.ˈʝi.tʃe], Huiliche or Huilliche-Mapuche are the southern partiality of the Mapuche macroethnic group of Chile. The Huilliche are the principal indigenous population of Chile from Toltén River to Chiloé Archipelago. According to Ricardo E. Latcham the term Huilliche started to be used in Spanish after the second founding of Valdivia in 1645, adopting the usage of the Mapuches of Araucanía for the southern Mapuche tribes. Huilliche means 'southerners'

Mapuche Ethnic group in South America

The Mapuche are a group of indigenous inhabitants of present-day south-central Chile and southwestern Argentina, including parts of present-day Patagonia. The collective term refers to a wide-ranging ethnicity composed of various groups who shared a common social, religious, and economic structure, as well as a common linguistic heritage as Mapudungun speakers. Their influence once extended from Aconcagua Valley to Chiloé Archipelago and later spread eastward to Puelmapu, a land compromising part of the Argentine pampa and Patagonia. Today the collective group makes up over 80% of the indigenous peoples in Chile, and about 9% of the total Chilean population. The Mapuche are particularly concentrated in the Araucanía region. Many have migrated from rural areas to the cities of Santiago and Buenos Aires for economic opportunities.

Arauco War Conflict between Spanish settlers of Chile and indigenous peoples

The Arauco War was a long-running conflict between colonial Spaniards and the Mapuche people, mostly fought in the Araucanía. The conflict begun at first as a reaction to the Spanish conquest attempt establishing cities and forcing Mapuches into servitude. It subsequently evolved over time into phases, drawn-out sieges, slave-hunting expeditions, pillaging raids, punitive expeditions, and renewed Spanish attempts to secure lost territories. Abduction of women and war rape was common on both sides.

Valdivian Fort System

The Fort System of Valdivia are a series of Spanish colonial fortifications at Corral Bay, Valdivia and Cruces River established to protect the city of Valdivia, in southern Chile. During the period of Spanish rule (1645–1820), it was one of the biggest systems of fortification in the Americas. It was also a major supply source for Spanish ships that crossed the Strait of Magellan.

La Frontera is the name given to a geographical region in Chile. La Frontera can denote either the area just around Bío Bío River or the whole area between the Bío Bío and Toltén River being in this later definition largely coterminous with the historical usage of Araucanía.

Diego de Rosales was a Spanish chronicler and author of Historia General del Reino de Chile.

The Conquest of Chile is a period in Chilean historiography that starts with the arrival of Pedro de Valdivia to Chile in 1541 and ends with the death of Martín García Óñez de Loyola in the Battle of Curalaba in 1598, and the destruction of the Seven Cities in 1598–1604 in the Araucanía region.

Cuncos or Juncos is a poorly known subgroup of Huilliche people native to coastal areas of southern Chile and the nearby inland. Mostly a historic term, Cuncos are chiefly known for their long-running conflict with the Spanish.

In Chilean historiography, Colonial Chile is the period from 1600 to 1810, beginning with the Destruction of the Seven Cities and ending with the onset of the Chilean War of Independence. During this time the Chilean heartland was ruled by Captaincy General of Chile. The period was characterized by a lengthy conflict between Spaniards and native Mapuches known as the Arauco War. Colonial society was divided in distinct groups including Peninsulars, Criollos, Mestizos, Indians and Black people.


Anganamón, also known as Ancanamon or Ancanamun, was a prominent war leader of the Mapuche during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries and a Toqui from. Anganamón was known for his tactical innovation of mounting his infantry to keep up with his cavalry.

Mañil or Magnil was a Mapuche lonko who fought in the 1851 Chilean Revolution and led an uprising in 1859. He was the main chief of the Arribanos and the father of Quilapán who led Mapuche forces in the Occupation of Araucanía.

The Mapuche people of southern Chile and Argentina have a long history dating back as an archaeological culture to 600–500 BC. The Mapuche society had great transformations after Spanish contact in the mid–16th century. These changes included the adoption of Old World crops and animals and the onset of a rich Spanish–Mapuche trade in La Frontera and Valdivia. Despite these contacts Mapuche were never completely subjugated by the Spanish Empire. Between the 18th and 19th century Mapuche culture and people spread eastwards into the Pampas and the Patagonian plains. This vast new territory allowed Mapuche groups to control a substantial part of the salt and cattle trade in the Southern Cone.

Dutch expedition to Valdivia

The Dutch expedition to Valdivia was a naval expedition, commanded by Hendrik Brouwer, sent by the Dutch Republic in 1643 to establish a base of operations and a trading post on the southern coast of Chile. With Spain and the Dutch Republic at war, the Dutch wished to take over the ruins of the abandoned Spanish city of Valdivia. The expedition sacked the Spanish settlements of Carelmapu and Castro in the Chiloé Archipelago before sailing to Valdivia, having the initial support of the local natives. The Dutch arrived in Valdivia on 24 August 1643 and named the colony Brouwershaven after Brouwer, who had died several weeks earlier. The short-lived colony was abandoned on 28 October 1643. Nevertheless, the occupation caused great alarm among Spanish authorities. The Spanish resettled Valdivia and began the construction of an extensive network of fortifications in 1645 to prevent a similar intrusion. Although contemporaries considered the possibility of a new incursion, the expedition was the last one undertaken by the Dutch on the west coast of the Americas.

In Colonial times the Spanish Empire diverted significant resources to fortify the Chilean coast as consequence of Dutch and English raids. The Spanish attempts to block the entrance of foreign ships to the eastern Pacific proved fruitless due to the failure to settle the Strait of Magellan and the discovery of the Drake Passage. As result of this the Spanish settlement at Chiloé Archipelago became a centre from where the west coast of Patagonia was protected from foreign powers. In face of the international wars that involved the Spanish Empire in the second half of the 18th century the Crown was unable to directly protect peripheral colonies like Chile leading to local government and militias assuming the increased responsibilities.

Coastal fortifications of colonial Chile

In Colonial times the Spanish Empire diverted significant resources to fortify the Chilean coast as consequence of Dutch and English raids. During the 16th century the Spanish strategy was to complement the fortification work in its Caribbean ports with forts in the Strait of Magellan. As attempts at settling and fortifying the Strait of Magellan were abandoned the Spanish began to fortify the Captaincy General of Chile and other parts of the west coast of the Americas. The coastal fortifications and defense system was at its peak in the mid-18th century.

History of agriculture in Chile

Agriculture in Chile has a long history dating back to the Pre-Hispanic period. Indigenous peoples practised varying types of agriculture, from the oases of the Atacama Desert to as far south as the Guaitecas Archipelago. Potato was the staple food in the populous Mapuche lands. Llama and chilihueque herding was practised by various indigenous groups.

[Chile] is rich in pastures and cultivated fields, in which all kind of animals and plants can be breed or grown, there is plenty of very beautiful wood for making houses, and plenty of firewood, and rich gold mines, and all land is full of them...

Defensive War

The Defensive War was a strategy and phase in the Arauco War between Spain and independent Mapuches. The idea of the Defensive War was conceived by Jesuit father Luis de Valdivia who sought to diminish hostilities, establish a clear frontier and increase missionary work among the Mapuches. Luis de Valdivia believed the Mapuches could be voluntarily converted to Christianity only if there was peace.

The battle of Río Bueno was fought in 1654 between the Spanish Army of Arauco and indigenous Cuncos and Huilliches of Fütawillimapu in southern Chile. The battle took place against a background of a long-running enmity between the Cuncos and Spanish, dating back to the destruction of Osorno in 1603. More immediate causes were the killing of Spanish shipwreck survivors and looting of the cargo by Cuncos, which led to Spanish desires for a punishment, combined with the prospects of lucrative slave raiding.

Slavery of Mapuches was commonplace in 17th-century Chile and a direct consequence of the Arauco War. When Spanish conquistadors initially subdued indigenous inhabitants of Chile there was no slavery but a form servitude called encomienda. However, this form of forced labour was harsh and many Mapuche would end up dying in the Spanish gold mines in the 16th century.

The Huilliche uprising of 1792 was an indigenous uprising against the Spanish penetration into Futahuillimapu, territory in southern Chile that had been de facto free of Spanish rule since 1602. The first part of the conflict was a series of Huilliche attacks on Spanish settlers and the mission in the frontier next to Bueno River. Following this a militia in charge of Tomás de Figueroa departed from Valdivia ravaging Huilliche territory in a quest to punish those involved in the attacks.


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