A quarter century of ransacking archives and libraries and the steady enlargement of the theme through writing and reflection underpin this truly remarkable study of the cities of colonial Chile by Gabriel Guarda. His previous, well-known inquiries into the origins and Spanish use of the grid plan for urban layout, the historical and archaeological examination of the cities abandoned after the great Araucanian uprising of 1598, and the surge in urban development of the eighteenth century are all incorporated into a monumental study. Through the lenses of its cities in what was a colony arranged around cities, the entire social and economic history of colonial Chile is given new focus and vision.

Colonial Chile was somewhat different from the present republic in that it included the province of Cuyo and did not include the far north; furthermore, for all practical purposes, it ended at the southern outposts of Valdivia and Chiloé. Within this territory, Pedro de Valdivia founded a string of cities, laid out in accordance with postulates developed in Europe and refined in Spanish America. Guarda arrives at ranked estimates of size by careful comparison of the figures in López de Velasco and in other sixteenth-century documents. Santiago emerges as peripheral to the Spanish economy, which was centered in the south and was based on gold placering for revenue. La Imperial was more nearly at the geographical center, and Valdivia was a truly important city.

Between 1598 and 1604 a successful Araucanian uprising forced abandonment of the southern cities and made Santiago the logical capital. Southern Chile became the Estado de Arauco in permanent war. In the new economy of the center, hordes of refugees developed agriculture and stockraising, which became the backbone of economic activity, supplemented by new crafts to replace imports. The great century of urban development was the eighteenth, when a rapidly increasing Hispanic population rebuilt the lost cities of the south and expanded the network within the Central Valley. The century brought far greater development of urban control and amenities in services, communications, lighting and cleaning of streets, cemeteries outside urban limits, policing, education, welfare, and cultural facilities.

Guarda’s analysis and exposition are of a thoroughness and subtlety that one hopes for in a work so long in design and execution. He examines the types of streets, squares, roads, building lots, and the buildings erected thereon, finding one set of types in stone and adobe in the center, and a unique adaptation to the colder climate and readily available supply of lumber in the south. His discussion of urban layout is based, town by town, upon plans and the results of archaeological excavations for the southern cities, even to the Dutch report of 1643. The handsomely printed text is richly illustrated with reproductions of maps, sketches, paintings, and photographs, all of which become an organic part of his exposition. The book closes with a list of the 780 nuclei of settlement known for colonial Chile and a truly fine iconographic appendix of maps, views, and photographs of cities and buildings—all in addition to the profusely illustrated text. This is one of the notable books on Latin American urban history of our time.