The Destruction of the Seven Cities (Spanish: Destrucción de las siete ciudades) is a term used in Chilean historiography to refer to the destruction or abandonment of seven major Spanish outposts in southern Chile around 1600 caused by the Mapuche and Huilliche uprising of 1598. The Destruction of the Seven Cities is in traditional historiography the defining event that marks the end of the Conquest period and the beginning of the proper colonial period.
The Destruction of the Seven Cities had a long-lasting impact for the history of Mapuche and the history of Chile. Colonial Spanish–Mapuche relations became shaped by these events which meant among other things the development of a Spanish–Mapuche frontier.
Decades prior to the events some conquistadors and settlers recognised the fragility of Spanish rule in southern Chile. In 1576 Melchior Calderón wrote to the King of Spain arguing for diminishing the number of cities in southern Chile by merging them, he proposed to merge Concepción, Angol, and Tucapel into one and La Imperial and Villarrica into another one.
The revolt was triggered by the news of the Battle of Curalaba on 23 December 1598, where the vice toqui Pelantaru and his lieutenants, Anganamón and Guaiquimilla, with three hundred men ambushed and killed the Spanish governor Martín García Óñez de Loyola and nearly all his companions.
Over the next few years, the Mapuche were able to destroy or force the abandonment of many cities and minor settlements including all the seven Spanish cities in Mapuche territory south of the Biobío River: Santa Cruz de Coya (1599), Santa María la Blanca de Valdivia (1599, reoccupied in 1602 and abandoned again in 1604), San Andrés de Los Infantes (1599), La Imperial (1600), Santa María Magdalena de Villa Rica (1602), San Mateo de Osorno (1603), and San Felipe de Araucan (1604).
Contemporary chronicler Alonso González de Nájera writes that Mapuches killed more than 3,000 Spanish and took over 500 women as captives. Many children and Spanish clergy were also captured. Skilled artisans, renegade Spanish, and women were generally spared by the Mapuches. In the case of the women it was, in the words of González de Nájera, "to abuse them" (Spanish: aprovecharse de ellas).
While some Spanish women were recovered in Spanish raids, other were set free only in agreements following the Parliament of Quillín in 1641. Some Spanish women became accustomed to Mapuche life and stayed voluntarily among the Mapuche. The Spanish understood this phenomenon as a result either of women's weak character or their genuine shame over having been abused. Women in captivity gave birth to a large number of mestizos, who were rejected by the Spanish but accepted among the Mapuches. These women's children may have had a significant demographic impact in the Mapuche society, which was long ravaged by war and epidemics.
The capture of women during the Destruction of the Seven Cities initiated a tradition of abductions of Spanish women in the 17th century by Mapuches.
The collapse of the Spanish cities in the south following the battle of Curalaba (1598) meant for the Spaniards the loss of both the main gold districts and the largest sources of indigenous labour. After those dramatic years the colony of Chile became concentrated in Central Chile which became increasingly populated, explored and economically exploited. Much land in Central Chile was cleared with fire during this period. On the contrary open fields in southern Chile were overgrown as indigenous populations declined due to diseases introduced by the Spanish and intermittent warfare. The loss of the cities meant Spanish settlements in Chile became increasingly rural with the hacienda gaining importance in economic and social matters.
The establishment of a Spanish-Mapuche frontier in the south made Concepción assume the role of "military capital" of Chile. This informal role was given by the establishment of the Spanish Army of Arauco in the city which was financed by a payments of silver from Potosí called Real Situado. Santiago located at some distance from the war zone remained the political capital since 1578.
When Valdivia and Osorno were destroyed Spanish settlers and loyal yanakuna marched south escaping hostile Cuncos and Huilliches. Reaching Chacao Channel next to Chiloé the refugees were assigned to two new settlements, Calbuco and Carelmapu. Loyalty towards the Spanish in these difficult times was rewarded to the yanakuna by giving them exemption from encomienda labour and turning them into a militia with a salary from the Real Situado. Thus they became known as Indios reyunos, literally meaning "Royal Indians" or "Kingly Indians". 300 of the initial 600 indios reyunos settled in Calbuco.
The Destruction of the Seven Cities meant the Spanish settlements at Chiloé became cut off from remaining Spanish possessions. Thus Chiloé developed as an isolated and highly peripheral Spanish outpost.
Main article: Dutch expedition to Valdivia
The abandoned city of Valdivia turned into an attractive site for Spain's enemies to control since it would allow them to establish a base amidst Spain's Chilean possessions. Recognizing this situation the Spanish attempted to reoccupy Valdivia in the 1630s but were thwarted by hostile Mapuches. The Dutch briefly occupied Valdivia in 1643. Having been told that the Dutch had plans to return to the location, the Spanish viceroy in Peru sent 1,000 men in twenty ships (and 2,000 men by land, who never made it) in 1644 to resettle Valdivia and fortify it.
The dire situation of the Spanish war efforts in Chile in the 17th century caused it to be compared to that of the Eighty Year's War, with Chile having turned into "Indian Flanders" (Flandes indiano) in the view of Diego de Rosales. Purén indómito is a contemporary literary chronicle describing some of the events (1598–1600) surrounding the Destruction of the Seven Cities. It stands out for its realist and raw commentaries as well as critique of both Spanish and Mapuche. Purén indómito and the military analysis of La guerra de Chile (published in 1647) challenged traditional Spanish views of the conquest of Chile as an "epic" series of "victories".