Chile's capital was founded in 1541, by the Spanish captain Pedro de Valdivia, on the banks of the Mapocho river in the middle of the Central Valley. At the foot of the Andes Mountains, the city stands 543 meters above sea level and 62 miles from the sea. Approximately five million people live here, which is one third of the country's total population. In recent years it has witnessed the rapid rise of modern, iridescent buildings that stand alongside traditional neighborhoods and homes built in the past century.Santiago is one of the financial metropolis of Latin America and Chile's cultural center.The capital is also attractive because of its privileged location, as it is close to the coastal cities and to the Andes Mountains.Santiago began as a fortified encampment, known by the name Santiago de la Nueva Extremadura, the furthest-flung post of the Spanish empire. For over two centuries, Santiago remained the only city in Central Chile, while great farms known as haciendas formed the basis of rural society.Today, Santiago is a clean, modern city, with an exceedingly pleasant Mediterranean climate, abundant parks and plazas, and an efficient public transportation system, the Metro. An active program of art exhibitions, theater and dance provide a fitting complement to Santiago's wealth of fine restaurants. The areas of principal interest to visitors include the historic city center or centro, the bohemian arts district of Bellavista, the modern, attractive commercial district and sidowalk cafes of Providencia, and the sparkling new high rises of Las Condes and Vitacura, the Banios Altos (higher-income neighborhoods).Vendors from the surrounding farms sell their wares in open markets, artisans transforms traditional motifs into more modern designs, dance and music recall the rural past of the majority of the capital's inhabitants. In Santiago, you get all types - but always with a smile.