Concepción, capital of the central Chilean province of the same name and of the Bío-Bío region. The city, which has a population of 391,733 (2003) inhabitants, along with the sister port city Talcahuano (2003 pop. 288,666), is now the second-largest urban center of the country after Greater Santiago, with close to 700,000 people in the metropolitan areas combined, followed by Valparaíso-Viña del Mar. Concepción was founded by Pedro de Valdivia in 1550 as a stronghold against the Mapuche Indians of the Bío-Bío region. After being repeatedly destroyed by earthquakes, tidal waves, and Indian attacks, the city was established in its present location on the northern margin of the Bío-Bío River in the eighteenth century. During colonial times it developed into a strong, independent power that used its strategic location and proximity to the sea to challenge Santiago for its position as capital city. Between 1858 (when coal was discovered in Lota) and 1940, Concepción and its surroundings became a bustling industrial center (textiles, steel mill, glass factories). It is also the location of several universities, including the University of Concepción. During the 1960s and 1970s the active militancy of students and workers converted Concepción into the most powerful political stronghold of the Left.
Concepción remains one of the most important industrial and harbor sites in Chile. The growing economic importance of the lumber, pulp, paper, and chemical industries, as well as fisheries, has attracted migrants in recent years, yet unemployment and social segregation within the city are salient problems. The contamination of soil, water, and air due to the proximity of industrial zones to residential areas has raised questions about Concepción's zoning laws.
See alsoChile, Geography .
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CÉsar N. Caviedes