A Visit to Corral and Valdivia, Chile

As one of the southernmost points in the Spanish empire during its peak, the port city of Corrral and the adjacent city of Valdivia needed protection. Their strategic position both on Corral Bay and at the entrance to the Valdivia River meant the cities were vulnerable to attacks from pirates as well as from the indigenous residents of the region,

The lesson for the need for protection was that was one hard earned. Founded in 1552 by Spanish conquistador Pedro de Valdivia, defenses of the town (which was originally named Santa María la Blanca de Valdivia) were overwhelmed in the War of Arauco against local residents. The town was abandoned. In the next century, the Dutch decided to resurrect the city and settled here, only to be attacked by the region’s Mapuche Indians. Once again, the city was deserted.

Finally Pedro Álvarez de Toledo y Leiva decided to restore the city of Valdivia but, this time, strengthen it with forts both in the city and in the port of Corral Bay. The resulting system of 17 forts would become one of the largest in the Americas.

Today the three principle forts in what is called the Valdivian Fort System greet visitors on their arrival into Corral Bay. Three forts guard Corral Bay but the most impressive is Castillo de San Sebastián de la Cruz Fort, also known as Corral Fort. Located on the southern side of the bay, this fort was constructed in 1645 and served as the headquarters for the coastal defense troops.

Another prominent fort is located on Mancera Island. This fort, known as the Isla Mancera Fort or the Castillo de San Pedro de Alcántara, defends the mouth of the Valdivia River. Visitors can tour the restored fort from mid-November through mid-March and enjoy the grounds of the small island.

Just up the river, only 15 kilometers east of Corral, lies the city of Valdivia, a city that thrived after its repopulation in the late 1600s. The government sought to expand the region economically and encouraged immigration to the region; thousands of Germans moved to the area and brought with them their technical skills. Soon the city became an industrial center with one of the first steel mills in South America.

Today industry remains an important part of Valdivia’s economy along with tourism thanks to the area’s many ecotourism opportunities.

The historic ties of the city are also a draw for many visitors. Along with the forts, one of the most recognizable sites in Valdivia is Los Torreones, two towers built in 1781 that once stood guard over the city. Many of the wooden homes built by the city’s early German settlers also remain today although some historic structures were lost in the Great Earthquake of 1960, an event that holds the title as the strongest earthquake ever recorded. Many remain, however, especially on General Lagos street; these stately homes recall the peak period of German immigration from 1840 to 1930. Another reminder of the strong German influence in this city: the local beer, a company originally founded by those early German residents eager to bring a taste of Europe to their new homeland.

Video Resource

Here's a short video that shows some of the grand houses along the river, the shipyard, and the surroundings of Valdivia: