The Stories Behind Santiago Place Names

Being a history buff of considerably nerdy proportions, I have long been observing the street signs in Santiago and across greater Chile. Many of the names pop up several times – for example, Av. Caupolican exists in Providencia, Cerro Navia, Peñalolen, Renca, Santiago Centro, Ñuñoa, Quilicura, and many more, as well as being Theatre (Teatro Caupolican) and a Square (Santa Lucia).  So without further ado, let´s dig a little deeper into who these people really are …

Looking out over a (smoggy) Peñalolen

Caupolican (birthdate unknown-died 1558)

Like Leftraru (Lautaro), Caupolican suffered a name change from the Spanish: Kalfulikan was his actual name.  Kalfulikan has gone down in history due to playing an important role in the poem, La Araucana, and is one of the most famous historical figures from the Arauco War.   He became Toki in 1557 after the death of Leftraru, a role he had for one year before famously being impaled in a gory and well-publicized death meant to scare the Mapuches into finishing their resistance. In order to become chief of all the united tribes, Kalfulikan had to demonstrate his strength to the caciques, which included Colo Colo.  To do this, he famously held a thick tree trunk on his shoulders for two days and one night. According to the writer Fernando Alegria, he he had one son who was blind in one eye that his wife Fresia famously threw at his feet when he was captured,  refusing to raise the child of a man who could allow himself to be captured. Ercilla writes that Kalfulikan fought to the very end, and actually jumped upon the spike himself.

Photo taken in the Mapuche museum in Curarruehue


In the famous poem, La Araucana, Tegualda meets author Alonso de Arcilla while frantically searching through the fallen casualities of war for her husband.

Cerro Blanco

Formerly known as Apu Huechuraba, this hill was a spiritual hub for local Picunche people that was given a name change due to its white rock, used for the first version of Puente Cal y Canto.

Plaza de Armas

This central square is believed to have been originally inhabited by Incas before being taken over by Pedro de Valdivia, Ines de Suarez and their troop in 1541. The term Plaza de Armas was given due to it being frequently patrolled and defended over the years against uprisings.



Named after the soldier and politician, Manuel Baquedano, who served during the Guerra del Pacifico and who briefly became Chile´s president in 1891.


Bernardo O´Higgins (1778-1842)

In 1810, the Spanish government was being controlled by France which was not supported by many of the local leaders here in Chile. On the 18th of September, they got together to self-govern until the time came when Spanish rule returned to Spain. Tension grew as people became divided between their loyalties to the Spanish Crown and the desire to become an independent nation.  O´Higgins was a well-born (though illegitimate) man who famously fought against the royalists, was exiled to Argentina and who later became the Supreme Director of Chile when independence was won after the Battle of Maipu.  During his time in power, O´Higgins proposed various radical reforms but was accused of being abusive of power; in 1823 he was relieved of his role during a political coup lead by his former friend and ally, Ramon Freire.

Barrio Yungay

Named after the Battle of Yungay of 1839, where the Chilean Army destroyed the Peru-Bolivia Confederation which united the states of Peru and Bolivia together.

Diego Portales (1793-1837)

A former entrepreneur, Portales was an influential and powerful politician known for drafting up the Constitution of 1833, backbone of the Chilean state for more than 100 years. He was murdered in 1837 when conspirators from the Chilean army captured him for being pro-war against the Peru-Bolivia Confederation.  After his death, the Chilean public united in support for the government and the War of the Confederation.

Benjamin Vicuña Mackenna (1831-1886)

Of Irish and Basque heritage, Mackenna was a man like few others. Known as the ¨hero of the Chilean Independence¨, he is noted by Memoria Chilena as being a former fireman, senator, historian, writer, philanthropist, social agitator, diplomat, and defender of modern ideals. Over the years he took up many causes including the occupation of La Araucania, and was fiercely mourned when he died.


Jose Manuel Balmaceda (1840-1891)

The 11th President of Chile, serving from 1886-1891. His disputes with Chilean Congress lead to the Chilean Civil War of 1891, which resulted in Balmaceda committing suicide.

Autumn Giveaway!! (1)



Did you like this article? Have a look at these:

5 Names You´ll Recognize in Chile

5 More Names You´ll Recognize

The Original People of Cerro Blanco

The Original People of Tierra del Fuego

20 Things You Didn´t Know About Chile

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