Around the port of Valparaíso

(continuer en français) – Published: December 31, 2020

75 miles, 120 kilometres, from Santiago the Chilean capital, Valparaíso was the most vibrant city in the country during the 19th century, thanks to its contacts with Europe and the rest of the world. At that time, ships rounding Cape Horn often stopped here. After the opening of the Panama Canal, the port experienced a steady decline, this decline is now compensated by the new economic boom in Chile, especially in the Santiago region, exporting and receiving large volumes to be transported.

The growing number of containers shows the dynamism of the Chilean economy, indeed the country’s inhabitants enjoy the highest average income in Latin America. Container handling, however, requires large surfaces, obstructing the view and access to the sea. The extension of this activity is hindered by the reluctance of the local population.

The port remains at the heart of Valparaiso’s activity. It occupies the flat part of the city, pushing the houses towards the slopes. The Cerros, the hills, are therefore opposed to El Plan, the flat part of the city where commercial buildings, business and administrative offices occupy most of the land. Here, the streets are organised according to the regular grid of New World cities, whereas in the hills, the inclination often decides the layout of the streets.

Some old buildings are showing signs of ageing. Those in need of renovation or replacement remain in a precarious state, damaging the image of the neighbourhood.

A conspicuous presence along the quays, the Chilean armada has kept its main base in Valparaiso. Opposite the port stands the imposing building of the headquarters of the Chilean fleet, while at the top of the Cerro Artillería stands the Maritime Museum.

In a corner of the harbour, a small fishing fleet is pitching as the container ships pass by. The fishing boats always bring a touch of local colour, even if in Valparaiso it is not very obvious.

Among the main thoroughfares of the lower town are Brasil Avenue and its double row of palm trees, as well as Sotomayor Square. The square is surrounded by administrative buildings, with a monument to the Heroes of the Chilean nation in its centre. The monument is topped by the statue of Arturo Prat, a young officer who died in battle, representing the figure of Chilean heroism.

Other statues are placed along Brasil Avenue, such as Isabella the Catholic, Queen of Spain, who encouraged the exploration of the New World. There is also Christopher Columbus, celebrated throughout the Americas, or Francisco Bilbao Barquin, a reformer who had to live in exile in Paris.

Sadly, there is also a monument to the memory of those detained, disappeared or executed during the troubled period at the end of the 20th century.

Another monument surmounted by an obelisk honours the memory of Lord Cochrane, an Anglo-Chilean mariner. More simply, a Neptune fountain enlivens a small square.

Cultural venues include the 1919 public library and the Palacio Baburizza, built in 1916 in Art Nouveau style. Formerly a private residence, the mansion became the Museum of Fine Arts. Its terrace overlooking the port is one of the most popular places for visitors.

The Congress is Valparaíso’s great political affair. Formerly located in Santiago, the two parliamentary chambers have occupied this large modern building since 1990. The executive power has thus gained some space by moving the parliament away from the capital.

Ancient trolleybuses are part of Valparaíso’s historical heritage. Built in the 1940s and 1950s by the Pullman Company, they were second-hand purchased in Switzerland and Lyon in France. Their presence contributed to the inscription of Valparaiso on the UNESCO list of cultural heritage of humanity in 2003.

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    • Valparaíso certainly has a special character, due to its openness to the world and the number of intellectuals who have lived there, it is certain that this is reflected in its appearance.


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