Founded in the middle 16th century by Spanish colonialists as a military garrison to impede British piracy, the little outpost didn’t do too well at first. The area was immediately ransacked and then “saved” by the famous British pirate, Thomas Cavendish, who in 1587 nearly proclaimed an independent republic on the spot after “rescuing” the soldiers at the outpost from themselves.
The “Straits of Magellan” were one of the most important areas for all the early explorers and shipping interests worldwide. In fact, until the Panama Canal was built it was often considered the most important shipping channel on earth. It was a way station, rest center and fuel refueling complex for most of the world’s shipping lines.
The opening of the canal in 1914 just as the first rumblings of World War I began resulted in a near catastrophic decline in the city and its economies. Today, it is vibrant and colorful city with a population approaching 135,000. Chile’s only oil reserves are mined here, together with a refinery. This has also become Chile’s main area for its famous sheep industry, and Chile’s growing fishing industry is booming, here. Tourism, too, now plays an important role as the city is a gateway into the famous Torres del Paine national park.