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Santiago's cityscape is shaped by several stand-alone hills and the fast-flowing Mapocho River, lined by parks such as Parque Forestal.

James, patron saint of Spain, near the Huelén, renamed by the conqueror as "St. (The name Santiago is the local Galician evolution of Vulgar Latin Sanctu Iacobu, "Saint James".) Following colonial rule, Valdivia entrusted the layout of the new town to master builder Pedro de Gamboa, who would design the city grid layout.

The Incas settled in the valley of mitimaes, the main installation settled in the center of the present city, with strengths as Huaca de Chena and the sanctuary of El Plomo hill.

The area would have served as a basis for the failed Inca expeditions southward road junction as the Inca Trail.

Of the 126 blocks designed by Gamboa in 1558, forty were occupied, and in 1580, the first major buildings in the city began to rise, the start of construction highlighted with the placing of the foundation stone of the first Cathedral in 1561 and the building of the church of San Francisco in 1572.