History of Punta Arenas

Just like other cities in southern Chile, Punta Arenas originally was a fort created to defend the territory and its settlers from the attack of foreign vessels or from the various native American peoples that dwelled in the region.

In December 1848, by command of Governor José Santos Mardones, the inhabitants of Fort Bulnes (named after the then Chilean president) migrated there. The aim was to ensure the presence of the Chilean State over the Strait of Magellan and to make the most of the best conditions offered by this site, especially water and firewood supply, for the subsistence of the settlers in that Patagonian land.

Its name in Spanish corresponds to the name given to this place by English expedition members years before. In 1870, an intense livestock activity started to be consolidated there. This process, along with the chance to become rich due to gold exploitation encouraged the arrival of European immigrants (Swiss, Spanish, Croatian and Slavonic, to name a few), who soon contributed to the task of strengthening the settlement.

Ever since its beginnings, Punta Arenas was also an important prison colony. This explains the fact that in 1877 it had to undergo a violent mutiny, which ended up with the destruction of a large portion of the city. In consequence, the Chilean government resolved to remarkably reduce the number of prisoners accommodated by this prison in order to prevent it from being considered a specially dangerous place. Based on the effort made by its denizens and as a result of the significant profits generated by the wool and timber industries, Punta Arenas soon recovered from the damage caused by the mutiny.

It is essential to point out that until 1920 -when the Panama Canal was inaugurated-, Punta Arenas had a singular importance due to its proximity to the Strait of Magellan, a necessary pass for ships that had to join the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Moreover, today this is a port with a privileged location for commercial activities.

Punta Arenas is the main city in Chilean Patagonia today. It also had a strong growth with the discovery of oil wells, which took place in 1945.

According to the 2002 census, the city has over 156 thousand inhabitants and its economy features highly diversified resources, including cattle, sheep husbandry, metal, gas, coal and oil.
While passing through the city, travelers may still perceive the traces of palace constructions, which mix French, Italian and English styles and were raised by the rich exporters of wool and timber who in the late nineteenth century established the solid base of a Punta Arenas that keeps growing and growing.