The historic area of the port city of Valparaíso with its early industrial infrastructure is characteristic of the urban architecture of the late 19th century in Latin America. The cog railways, which are around 100 years old, still serve as a connection to the higher-lying residential areas.
Historic District of Valparaíso: Facts
|Official title:||Historic quarter of the port city of Valparaíso|
|Cultural monument:||Historical district of the industrial and commercial town of Valparaíso from the 19th century; early industrial infrastructure preserved to this day; 100-year-old cog railways and elevators to connect the city with the residential areas on the slopes of the cliff|
|Location:||Valparaíso, 100 km west of Santiago de Chile|
|Meaning:||Important trading port and remarkable testimony to the early phase of globalization in the late 19th century.|
Port city with a long tradition
Valparaíso looks at its most beautiful when you approach from the water: according to oxfordastronomy, the Chilean port city hugs the wide bay on over 40 hills like a huge amphitheater. A colorful tangle of houses, alleys and stairs unfolds on the slopes of the upper town. Valparaíso, often called Valpo for short, experienced its heyday in the late 19th century, when the city was America’s most important seaport next to San Francisco. Today the 290,000-resident city is not only the seat of the Chilean parliament, but also the cultural center of Chile. Numerous writers, musicians and artists used the “Paradise Valley”, as the city’s name was translated, as inspiration and motif, and the old town on Cerro Alegre is still popular with artists today.
In 1536 the Spanish conquistador Juan de Saavedra († 1554) discovered the bay on the Pacific and named it after his hometown Valparaíso de Arriba in the Spanish region of Cuenca. Eight years later, Juan Bautista Pastene (1507–1581) founded a city there that was also named Valparaíso. At first the new city developed slowly, but in 1811 the Chilean congress passed a momentous resolution: The port was opened to “free trade with foreign powers, friends and allies of Spain as well as the neutral powers” the city took its course. In the decades that followed, Valparaíso became an important stopover for ships sailing the Strait of Magellan on their way from the Atlantic to the Pacific. This brought the city a great economic boom. In 1858, the first exchange in South America was founded in Valparaíso, and a railway line soon connected the port city with the state capital, Santiago. In 1914, however, the heyday of Valparaíso was over suddenly: the Panama Canal had been opened, which considerably shortened the distance between the Atlantic and Pacific.
There was never a plan for Valparaíso – the city just grew. That is why Valparaíso does not have the checkerboard pattern so typical of colonial cities in South America. Instead, the brightly colored, small houses of the upper town sprawl up and down the hills, criss-crossed by a labyrinth of cobblestone streets and alleys. From almost every house you can enjoy a view of the harbor and the Pacific. Endless stairs lead up the often breathtakingly steep slopes. The poet and Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda (1904–1973), a famous son of the city, erected a literary monument for them: “How many stairs? How many steps? How many feet on steps? How many centuries of steps, upstairs, downstairs…? ”He muses about his hometown. The lower town of Valparaíso is called El Plán.
The ships that anchored in Valparaíso brought not only commercial goods to the new world, but also people from all over the world who sought their fortune in the distance. Numerous immigrants from all over Europe came to Valparaíso and left their mark on the city’s culture and architecture. German, British and Italian immigrants had their own neighborhoods of houses, churches and schools. The British, for example, lived on Cerro Concepción from 1900, which is still adorned with Victorian-style houses today. Mainly people from Croatia, Germany and Italy settled on Cerro Alegre and gave this quarter its unique mixture of architectural styles and building materials. The architecture on Cerro Bellavista is also particularly worth seeing. There, at Calle Ferrari 692, also lived Pablo Neruda.
The landmark of Valparaíso are the many inclined lifts, called ascensores, which make it easier for people to get up the hills. There used to be 30 of these glazed wooden cabins, which are pulled up by winches on steel cables between the houses. Today 15 ascensors are still in operation, from which one often has a wonderful panoramic view over the entire bay. They have been under monument protection since 1998, even if they are still used by the residents as an everyday means of transport.