The Antofagasta is the largest region of continental Chile (50,578 square miles, population as of 2001 493,984). Its capital is the port of Antofagasta (2001 population 296,905), the "metropole of the North." Most of Antofagasta's territory was incorporated into Bolivia when that country was created in 1825. It was then sparsely inhabited by silver and copper miners, with settlements found only in the river oases, where Indian tribes belonging to the Atacameño culture pursued agricultural and pastoral activities. In the War of the Pacific (1879–1884) Chilean troops occupied the coastal fringe and pushed the Bolivian army back toward the interior. In 1904 Bolivia relinquished its rights to the area, thus opening the way for migrants from Chile's Norte Chico.
Under Chilean control the region developed into a thriving mining center with nitrate mines (salitreras) and huge copper mines at Chuquicamata, La Exótica, La Escondida, and Mantos Blancos. Industrial fisheries in Tocopilla, Mejillones, Antofagasta, and Taltal are other mainstays of the regional economy. In this desert environment the population is concentrated in urban centers. Anto-fagasta is the main administrative hub, with two universities, the northern bases of the Chilean naval and air forces, and a nationally known soccer team. It is also the terminus of the railroad from Oruro in Bolivia and Salta in Argentina. The second largest city is Calama (2001 population 128,400), also a bustling mining center with a well-known soccer team. Of lesser importance are the industrial fishing ports of Tocopilla, Mejillones, and Taltal, which are also shipping terminals for copper and other mining products.
"Región del Bíobío." In Geografia de Chile, vol. 9. Santiago de Chile: Instituto Geográfico Militar, 1986.
CÉsar N. Caviedes