Santiago (Spanish pronunciation: [san̪ˈtja.ɣo]), formally Santiago de Chile[san̪ˈtja.ɣo ðe ˈtʃi.le] ( listen), is the capital of Chile and the center of its largest conurbation. It is located in the country's central valley, at an elevation of 520 m (1,706.04 ft) above mean sea level.
Founded in 1541, Santiago has been the capital city since colonial times. The city boasts a downtown core of 19th century neoclassical architecture and winding side-streets, dotted by art deco, neo-gothic, and other styles. Santiago's cityscape is shaped by several stand-alone hills and the fast-flowing Mapocho River, lined by elegant parks such as Parque Forestal . The imposing Andes mountains can be seen from most points in the city. These mountains have caused it to develop a considerable smog problem, particularly during the winter months. The city outskirts are surrounded by vineyards, and Santiago is within a few hours of both the mountains and the Pacific Ocean.
Santiago's steady economic growth over the past few decades have transformed it into a modern metropolis. The city is now home to growing theater and restaurant scenes, extensive suburban development, dozens of shopping centers, and a rising skyline, including the tallest building in Latin America, the Gran Torre Santiago. It includes several major universities, and has developed a modern transportation infrastructure, including a free flow toll-based, partly underground urban highway system and the Metro de Santiago, South America's most extensive subway system. Santiago is the cultural, political, and financial center of Chile and is home to the regional headquarters of many multinational corporations. The Chilean executive and judicial powers are located in Santiago, but Congress meets in nearby Valparaíso.
The Plaza de Armas (Literally "Weapons' Square" but better translated to Parade Square or Parade ground) is the name for the main square in many Latin American cities. In Mexico this space is known as El Zócalo, and in Central America as Parque Central (Central Park). While some large cities have both a Plaza de Armas and a Plaza Mayor, in most cities those are two names for the same place.
Most cities constructed by the Spanish conquistadores were designed on a standard military fashion based on a grid pattern, taken from the Romancastrum, of which one of the blocks would be left vacant to form the Plaza de Armas. It is often surrounded by governmental buildings, churches, and other structures of cultural or political significance. The name derives from the fact that this would be a refuge in case of an attack upon the city, from which arms would be supplied to the defenders. (See also Huamanga Archos).