Talking about Arica’s history is going 9.000 or 10.000 years back in time when groups of people coming from the north of the continent started to settle in the fertile Azapa valley, and dedicated themselves mainly to the extraction of sea products. One of those peoples was what we now call “the Chinchorro Culture”. The Chinchorro culture lived from the resources brought by the sea, and though its way of life was very simple, the had a very complex way of mummification of their death, which has as a result that their mummies remain intact until today. They are a lot older that the Egyptian ones. Although the Chinchorro culture disappeared more than a thousand years before Christ, its descendants kept on living in the Azapa valley. Those descendants started to apply agricultural techniques that were developed by the tribes living in the higher areas of the Andean valleys, with whom the they step by step started to have commercial contact.

After that, during the IV century, the area was dominated by the Tiwanaku culture from Lake Titicaca. Interaction with this civilisation brought advances to the region like raising lamas, perfection of copper metallurgy and the stratification of society. The Tiwanaku influence lasted until the IX century. After this period the regional rulers formed a kind of feudal lordships and time was dedicated mainly to the cultivation of different crops both in the higher and lower parts of the Azapa valley. It wasn’t until 1473 that Arica and the Azapa valley were occupied by the Inca empire, which made that its population slowly started to adapt the culture coming from Cuzco. This period lasted until the Inca empire was concurred by Francisco Pizarro’s armies in 1536, that handed over the rich Azapa Valley territory, including Arica, to one of its lieutenants.


Four years later, the rich silver mine in Potosi (now Bolivian territory) was discovered and converted Arica in a provider of agricultural products, which brought great prosperity to the region. This prosperity lasted until the Viceroy-ship of La Plata, when the silver from Potosi started to be transported to the Atlantic coast and therefore stopped to pass through Arica (which was still part of the Viceroy-ship of Peru).

This fact marked a long economical decadency that would last until after the Peruvian independence. After 1830, year of Peru’s independence, Arica becomes part of this new nation, which brings certain advances, such as a railway and better healthcare in Arica. The exploitation of guano, that was found on the coasts of Tarapacá brought improvements in the region’s economical situation, which soon would be the epicentre of a bloody war between the brother nations Peru and Chile. The result of the Pacific War was that Arica and Tacna were administrated by Chile until a so called referendum would define whether these cities would become part of Chile or part of Peru. The referendum was never held and both governments decided via the Lima Treaty (1929) which laid down that Arica would belong to Chile and Tacna to Peru. After this date Arica became and still is the northern limit of the Chilean territory, which through various means has tried to let it take part in the national development.

Back to the index