Begin your tour of Santiago at the grand Plaza de Armas (Metro: Plaza de Armas). Pedro de Valdivia, who conquered Chile for the Spanish crown, founded this plaza in 1541 as the civic nucleus of the country and surrounded it with the Royal Court of Justice (now the Natural History Museum), the Governor's Palace (now the Central Post Office), the Metropolitan Cathedral, and the venerable homes of early Chile's movers and shakers. The square became the epicenter of public life and the stage for markets, festivals, and even bullfights. In the mid-1800s, the somber plaza was spruced up with gardens and trees, creating a promenade that became a social center for fashionable society. Though fashionable society has since moved uptown, the plaza still ranks as one of Santiago's most enjoyable areas to sit and watch the world go by. Between the hustle and bustle of city workers, there is an eclectic mix of characters that spend the better part of their day here: soap-box speakers and shoe shiners, comedians and preachers, garrulous old men playing chess, young couples embracing on park benches, and street photographers and artists hawking paintings.

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