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Southern Mendoza would be vast arid plains were it not for the ríos Atuel and Diamante, which flow from the Andes and irrigate the fine alluvial soil that attracted the first inhabitants, who came from Chile in 1594. As they attempted to farm in the Diamante River Valley, Indian raids made it necessary to build a fort in 1805.
After the area was made safe from Indian raids in 1879, immigrants from Italy, Switzerland, and France brought their advanced viticulture skills and new grape varieties to this frontier region. When the railroad arrived in 1903 the fledgling wine industry was connected to Buenos Aires and the rest of the world. Today, with more than 80 wineries and a population of 173,000, San Rafael is the second-largest city in Mendoza Province. Wide avenues lined with leafy sycamores and tall poplars fed by streetside canals give this city a bucolic charm.
San Rafael at a Glance
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