Founded in 1541, Santiago has been the capital city since colonial times. The city boasts a downtown core of 19th century neoclassical architecture and winding side-streets, dotted by art deco, neo-gothic, and other styles. Santiago's cityscape is shaped by several stand-alone hills and the fast-flowing Mapocho River, lined by elegant parks such as Parque Forestal. The imposing Andes mountains can be seen from most points in the city. These mountains have caused it to develop a considerable smog problem, particularly during the winter months. The city outskirts are surrounded by vineyards, and Santiago is within a few hours of both the mountains and the Pacific Ocean.
Santiago's steady economic growth over the past few decades has transformed it into a modern metropolis. The city is now home to growing theater and restaurant scenes, extensive suburban development, dozens of shopping centers, and a rising skyline, including the tallest building in Latin America, the Gran Torre Santiago. It includes several major universities, and has developed a modern transportation infrastructure, including a free flow toll-based, partly underground urban freeway system and the Metro de Santiago, South America's most extensive subway system. Santiago is the cultural, political, and financial center of Chile and is home to the regional headquarters of many multinational corporations. The Chilean executive and judicial powers are located in Santiago, but Congress meets in nearby Valparaíso.