Valparaíso's bay was probably first populated by Picunches Indians, who were dedicated to agriculture. Other accounts say that it was the Changos who were nomads dedicated to fishing, and traveling between Caldera and Concepcion. Spanish explorers arrived in 1536, aboard the Santiaguillo, a supply ship sent by Diego de Almagro, who is considered the first European explorer, or discoverer, of Chile. The Santiaguillo carried men and supplies for Almagro’s expedition, under the command of Juan de Saavedra, who named the town after his native village of Valparaíso de Arriba in Cuenca, Spain.
During Spanish colonial times, Valparaíso remained a small village, with only a few houses and a church. After Chile’s independence from Spain (1818), Valparaíso became the main harbour for the nascent Chilean navy, and opened to international trade, formerly limited to commerce with Spain and its other colonies.
Valparaíso soon became a desired stopover for ships rounding South America via the Strait of Magellan and Cape Horn. It gained particular importance supporting and supplying the California Gold Rush (1848–1858). In its role as a major seaport, Valparaíso received immigrants from many European countries, mainly from Britain, Germany, France, Switzerland and Italy. German, French, Italian and English were commonly spoken among its citizens, who founded and published newspapers in these languages.
International immigration transformed the local culture from Spanish origins and Amerindian origins. Football was introduced to Chile by English immigrants, and the first private Catholic school in Chile was founded by French immigrants in Valparaíso: Le Collège des Sacrés Cœurs (The Sacred Hearts School) which has been operating for about 170 years. Immigrants from Scotland and Germany founded the first private secular schools, (The Mackay School, and Die Deutsche Schule, respectively). Immigrants formed the first volunteer fire-fighting units (still a