The city of Villarrica (pr. vee-ya-ree-ca), located at the south of today’s Araucanía Region, Chile, was founded by the Adelantado don Geronimo de Alderete, who under the orders of the governor don Pedro de Valdivia established the city in April, 1552. At that time, 50 people settled in the new city.
Several local historians have pointed out that, contrary to popular belief, the original name of this city was not Santa María Magdalena de La Villa Rica, but rather Villa Rica (rich villa). The reason for this name was the conviction of the first conquerors that there were abundant deposits of gold and silver in the surroundings. The historical alteration of the name was due to the existence of the parish church of the city, whose patron saint was Saint Mary Magdalene. The religious orders of the Franciscans, Dominicans and Mercedarians were present in the new city to provide spiritual support to the settlers and establish trade relations with the indigenous leaders.
However, because of being located in the middle of Mapuche territory, its history is full of struggles, resistance and revolts. In fact, in 1554 the city was abandoned by the Spaniards after the defeat at the Battle of Tucapel, in which Pedro de Valdivia himself was killed, and the first indigenous general uprising happened, led by the toki (Mapuche general leader in times of war) Leftraru, better known as Lautaro. The city was reduced to ashes.
Villa Rica was re-founded the following year, in 1555, when the Viceroyalty of Peru ordered repopulation once the Mapuche uprising was defeated.
After several reconstruction efforts, the Captain General of Chile, Don Garcia Hurtado de Mendoza, made officialthe refounding in 1559 and the town was rebuilt on the ruins of the previous one.
The discontinuous history of Villarrica tells that from 1559 until 1598, the city flourished in population and architecture, due to the economic factor of the mining of gold and silver, in addition to the trade of slaves, wine and salt with the cities of Córdoba and Buenos Aires (today’s Argentina). About 1599, after the Disaster of Curalaba, the city fell again under the Mapuche siege, which lasted three years with continuous sieges and skirmishes that cut off communication with the rest of the Captaincy General of Chile. The population of Villa Rica, reduced by hunger, died little by little during those years. The chronicles tell that the Spanish settlers had to eat their own books and resort to cannibalism. The city was finally vacated in the year 1602. On February 7th of that year, the 11 men and 13 women who remained surrendered, and the city fell into the hands of the toki Millacalguin (pr. mee-ya-kal-geen), who ordered that it be completely burned. The seven people rescued from captivity told the chroniclers about the fall of Villa Rica, the last Spanish city south of the Biobio River to disappear.
Thus began a long period in which its ruins were abandoned, until between December 31st, 1882 and January 1st, 1883, in what would go down in history as the Parliament of Putúe. With agreement of the government of the young Chilean State and the Mapuche, there was a new refoundation of Villarrica, and with it, the incorporation of the territory of the Araucanía to the territory of the State of Chile, after a bloody process of military occupation and negotiations with the Mapuche leaders.
On that occasion, the lonko (Mapuche community leaders) Saturnino Epulef, Leandro Penchulef and Luis Aburto Akiñanko (whose ancestor Wentekura guided the Liberation Army and General José de San Martín back to Chile to seal its independence), together with Colonel Gregorio Urrutia, agreed (with some resistance) that the Chilean government would take peaceful possession of the area in perpetuity.
Facing the possibility of new indigenous uprisings, the authorities decided to build a fort near Villarrica, which would protect its population. This is how the city of Pucón was born.
The modifications to the territory and its delivery to Chilean and Dutch settlers of the Villarrica, Loncoche and Gorbea areas, and the rich cultural exchange that took place with the Mapuche population, gave rise to the development of commercial, agricultural and industrial activities. It also encouraged the arrival of people from diverse origins to the city, highlighting to this day the presence of the Palestinian, Lebanese and German communities, who made great contributions and advances to the general community. In 1904 the lands north of Villarrica were colonized and the Mapuche were transferred to reducciones (reduced pieces of land outside the cities and away from the settlers). In 1916 the Villarrica Commune was created. Milestones such as the first road bridge over the Toltén River (1924), the arrival of the railroad (1933) and the coastal road Villarrica-Pucón (1940) boosted Villarrica´s incipient tourist activity.
The presence of a beautiful volcano of eternal snows, with a lake surrounded by forests and with a rich fauna, triggered the early appearance of the tourist flow in the commune. Thus, the tourist development was promoted especially from the 1980s, and was developed rapidly throughout the 90´s and 2000s, giving special relevance to the infrastructure and diversification of tourism services, and the presence of the Mapuche people in this activity.
In the last decade, Villarrica has positioned itself as the center of the Lacustre (lakes) area. Thanks to its attractive tourism offer, services, culture, events and natural environment, it has become one of the main tourist destinations in the region and the country, to which Chilean tourists and those from all over the world arrive.