After 7000 relatively undisturbed years, central Chile's Mapuche communities were invaded twice in quick succession, first by the Inka and then by the Spanish. Earthquakes and constant Mapuche sieges meant that early Spanish colonial cities floundered almost as often as they were founded. Eventually the Mapuche retreated south of the Río Biobío, and colonial central Chile grew, becoming a linchpin in the struggle for independence. Political change gave way to economic growth: massive irrigation projects transformed the central valleys into fertile agricultural land, and major natural resources were discovered and exploited: coal mines near Concepción, copper at Rancagua. The area was a focus of repression during the dictatorship, and since the return to democracy it has been the backdrop for vociferous strikes by students and workers.

The 8.8-magnitude earthquake that rocked Chile in February 2010 was particularly devastating to this region. In addition to the countless houses and offices that were destroyed in Curicó, Concepción and Chillán, historic landmarks like Talca's Villa Cultural Huilquilemu were so badly damaged that they may never reopen. While you'll see a fair few cracks in historic buildings, businesses are back and running.