Situated on the pacific coast in central Chile, Valparaíso is the country’s second largest city, its principal port and the capital of the Valparaíso province. Located in a wide bay naturally protected to the south, Vaparaíso is surrounded by 45 hills and cliffs. The city is susceptible to earthquakes, the most destructive occurring in 1906. Valparaíso merges with the resort city of Viña del Mar.
The area that is now Valparaíso was originally inhabited by the Changos, who were farmers and fishermen. In 1536 the Santiaguillo, captained by Juan de Saavedra and carrying provisions from Peru, anchored in the bay. In 1544 the settlement of Valparaíso was founded by the Conquistador, Pedro de Valdivia. Over the next two centuries the settlement remained small. It was not until 1791 that a cabildo (town council) was established. In 1802, Valparaíso was officially named a city but at the turn of the nineteenth century Valparaíso still had only 5,000 inhabitants.
After Chile’s independence from Spanish rule in 1818, Valparaíso flourished. The British were among the main traders, and a large British community was established in the business district and in the Cerro Alegre and Cerro Concepción areas. During the Californian gold rush, trade with America flourished as Chilean wheat was exported from Valparaíso. In 1866 a Spanish naval fleet attacked Valparaíso, causing extensive structural damage. Nonetheless, by 1880 the population had expanded 20-fold. Valparaíso was also becoming the centre for Chile’s banking industry.
In 1906 a major earthquake devastated Valparaíso, killing 4,000 people. From 1910 the city was the terminus for the trans-Andean railway, connecting the Pacific coast to Mendoza in Argentina (passenger traffic to Argentina ceased in 1979). The city suffered further with the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914. When merchant ships no longer had to go round Cape Horn, trade declined. Population growth in the second half of the twentieth century slowed. In contrast, the population of the affluent coastal resort of Viña del Mar increased, until the two cities merged into one conurbation. In 1990 the reopened National Congress was established in Valparaíso.
Valparaíso is the traditional centre for the navy and for other Chilean maritime activity. Most of Chile’s imports arrive here. An important industrial centre, principal industries include ship repairing, textiles, chemicals and the manufacture of vegetable oils. Valparaíso has been home to the National Congress since 1990. Universities include the Universidad de Valparaíso, founded in 1911, and the Universidad Católica de Valparaíso, established in 1928. The towering hill tops are connected to the city centre by 15 acensores, or funicular trains, built between 1883–1916. There is also an acensor artillería, or cable car as well as many narrow, windy paths. Valparaíso is connected to domestic cities via the Aeropuerto de Torquemada. Valparaíso has a summertime festival celebrating national dance traditions, the Festival de la Cueca y Tonada Inédita.
Places of Interest
The traditional centre of Valparaíso is the Plaza Sotomayor. The Monumento a Los Héroes de Inquique is a mausoleum dedicated to naval heroes from the War of the Pacific (1879–84), including Arturo Prat who gave his name to the redeveloped port area, Muelle Prat. An extravagant post-modernist building was erected in 1991 to house the National Assembly. The Isla Negra, on a cliff between Valparaíso and the small town of Cartegena, was home to the Nobel prize winning poet Pablo Neruda and is now a museum. The house of another Chilean Nobel prize winning poet, and native Porteña, Gabriela Mistral, has also been turned into a museum. Other museums include the Museo Municipal de Bellas Artes housed in the Art Nouveau Palacio Baburizza. Built in 1916 by Arnaldo Barison y Renato Schiavon, the museum displays a collection of Chilean paintings and works of international artists from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. 20 murals painted by renowned Chilean artists are displayed on old buildings in the Cerro Bellavista district. Based on the site of an original 1559 chapel, the Iglesia Matriz was constructed in 1842.