Web site navigation : home > South America > History > Exploration of the Interior

Search this website ::


Exploration of the Interior

The systematic exploration and conquest of the South American interior were begun, paradoxically, by Germans. In 1529 Bartholomaus Welser received a huge grant of territory in South America from Charles V, Holy Roman emperor and king of Spain, who was in debt to him. Welser immediately dispatched an expedition to the territory, which included present-day Venezuela. About 17 years later Welser's grant was revoked, partly because of extreme brutality inflicted by the German colonists on the Native Americans.

The first European to penetrate the continental interior successfully was Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro. Pushing southward from Panama, he invaded the gold-rich empire of the Inca in 1531. Within five years, by skillful use of arms and treachery, Pizarro acquired control of the Inca Empire, which included all of present-day Peru, Chile, and Bolivia. One of Pizarro's chief associates was Diego de Almagro, who conquered what is now northern Chile. The conquest and colonization of the region bordering the Rio de la Plata were begun in 1535 by Spanish soldier Pedro de Mendoza. He founded a settlement at Buenos Aires in 1536. Between 1536 and 1538 Spanish soldier Gonzalo Jimenez de Quesada subjugated the Chibcha and founded the Audiencia of New Granada (present-day Colombia). In 1539 Gonzalo Pizarro, brother of Francisco, crossed the Andes and arrived at the upper reaches of the Amazon River. One of his companions, Francisco de Orellana, followed the river down to its mouth, reaching the Atlantic Ocean in 1542. In the previous year conquistador Pedro de Valdivia began the systematic subjugation of the Araucanian, the native people of Chile. Valdivia founded Santiago in 1541. Meanwhile (about 1530) the Portuguese had begun to establish settlements along the coast of the eastern bulge of South America.

Sugar estates were soon established on the eastern coast of Brazil, leading to the importation of millions of African slaves. Exploration westwards extended to the Amazon, and in the 17th century exploring parties (bandeiras) extended Portuguese control west and southward from Sao Paulo. An important gold strike in 1693 rapidly intensified settlement in what is now Minas Gerais State in Brazil, attracting major immigration from Portugal and promoting the rapid growth of the new port of Rio de Janeiro.

Search this website ::