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The conquest of Chile began in earnest in 1540 and was carried out by Pedro de Valdivia, one of Francisco Pizarro's lieutenants, who founded the city of Santiago on 12 February 1541.Although the Spanish did not find the extensive gold and silver they sought, they recognized the agricultural potential of Chile's central valley, and Chile became part of the Spanish Empire.About 10,000 years ago, migrating Native Americans settled in fertile valleys and coastal areas of what is present-day Chile.Settlement sites from very early human habitation include Monte Verde, Cueva del Milodon and the Pali Aike Crater's lava tube.The abolition of slavery by the Spanish crown in 1683 was done in recognition that enslaving the Mapuche intensified resistance rather than cowing them into submission.Despite royal prohibitions, relations remained strained from continual colonialist interference.The relatively small central area dominates in terms of population and agricultural resources, and is the cultural and political center from which Chile expanded in the late 19th century when it incorporated its northern and southern regions.

In 1520, while attempting to circumnavigate the globe, Ferdinand Magellan discovered the southern passage now named after him, the Strait of Magellan, thus becoming the first European to set foot on what is now Chile.After declaring its independence from Spain in 1818, Chile emerged in the 1830s as a relatively stable authoritarian republic.In the 19th century, Chile saw significant economic and territorial growth, ending Mapuche resistance in the 1880s and gaining its current northern territory in the War of the Pacific (1879–83) after defeating Peru and Bolivia.The regime, headed by Augusto Pinochet, ended in 1990 after it lost a referendum in 1988 and was succeeded by a center-left coalition which ruled through four presidencies until 2010.