History of Antofagasta de la Sierra

Antofagasta means “house of the sun”. Relentless sun, watchful of the hard work of the people and persistent in its fight against the cold wind of the mountain.
Framed by the Azufre Volcano, Mounts Archibarca and Incahuasi, Mount Blanco Dale, Mounts Gordo and Vicuñorco and the Laguna Blanca and Culampajá Mountain Range, Antofagasta de la Sierra lies 500 km from the City of Catamarca, immersed in the Puna and lodging its characteristic Mount Torreón, which represents a natural milestone.
The three most important settlements, Antofagasta de la Sierra, El Peñón and Antofalla, are located between 3,200 and 3,500 meters above sea level and are surrounded by these impressive sceneries teeming with fertile valleys, volcanoes and colorful mounts which contrast with the desert background.
Diverse research proceedings developed in the last few decades have given evidence of the high archeological potential of the district of Antofagasta de la Sierra.
According to evidence provided by archeological research, Antofagasta has been a witness of the occupation of human groups since at least 10,000 years ago –at the very beginning of the Holocene. Since this early occupation to this date, several processes of cultural change have taken place and marked the evolution and development of the populations that dwelled this very spot.
Antofagasta de la Sierra reflects the booming complexity of the Puna societies, from ancient hunters to agricultural and pastoral groups, who modified their lifestyle under the new socio-economical modalities.
Life in the puna desert had a great break in its history when the Hispanic-Indian “contact” took place. That was the begining of the end of the local Indian society.
The natives found by the Spaniards in the territory included in Catamarca nowadays were called diaguitas. This culture had been influenced by the Amazonian culture and, later, by the Incan civilization.
The valleys, ravines, dales and mountain ranges of Catamarca are populated by many tribes whose names derive from the place where they lived or from the name of the chief. The territory occupied by Antofagasta nowadays used to be the geographic location of the tribal settlements of the Apatamas.
They would speak kakán o cacano, a tongue very hard to pronounce. Afterwards, during the second half of the XVII century, they already spoke quichua.
Their economy was based on agriculture. They used artificial irrigation, built channels, dams and terraces on the mountain slopes for crops. They would cultivate potatoes, squashes, corn and beans. They would make aloja and añapa, energizing alcoholic drinks, from the fruit of the carob tree.
They would hunt Andean guans, ostriches, ducks, vicuñas and guanacos, from which not only did they get meat but also wool for their fabrics. They were potters. They would use clay to make pots, dishes, containers, pipes and urns they used as coffins for the dead.
As regards buildings, their houses were made of rocks from the mountain, with straw roofs with branches they would pick up in the valleys, or underground pit-houses built two meters deep into the ground.
They were important, warlike communities, strong defenders of their land, tradition, customs and religion. In the XVII century, their population was estimated to have reached 13,000 people, out of which 3,000 or 4,000 were warriors.
Bishop Trejo y Sanabria, a Jesuit, created the Curato de Londres (Parrish of London) in 1607, which included the entire western area of Catamarca: Santa María, Andalgalá, Pomán, Tinogasta, Fiambalá and Antofagasta de la Sierra. There were several priests appointed to lead this parrish until in 1678, master don Bartolomé de Olmos y Aguilera, founder of the present city of Belén appeared.
The Franciscan priests had been arriving in the Province of Catamarca since the beginnings of colonization, leaving their evangelizing print.
By the XIX century, Catamarca's soveriegnty over the Puna region was threatened by the Bolivian occupation, which started in 1795 and continued up to the war with Chile in 1879, and then by the Chilean army until 1899. After the settlement of the conflicts on boundaries with Bolivia and Chile, the eastern part of the Atacama Puna was under Argentinian sovereignty again.
On September 21, 1943, the old Region of Atacama was recovered and became part of the district of Antofagasta de la Sierra.

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