Valparaíso is a city and commune of Chile, center of its third largest conurbation (Greater Valparaíso) and one of the country’s most important seaports and an increasing cultural center in the Southwest Pacific hemisphere. The city is the capital of the Valparaíso Province and the Valparaíso Region. Although Santiago is Chile’s official capital, the National Congress of Chile was established in Valparaíso in 1990.
Valparaíso played an important geopolitical role in the second half of the 19th century, when the city served as a major stopover for ships traveling between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans by crossing the Straits of Magellan. Always a magnet for European immigrants, Valparaíso mushroomed during its golden age, when the city was known by international sailors as “Little San Francisco” and “The Jewel of the Pacific.”
Examples of Valparaíso’s former glory include Latin America’s oldest stock exchange, the continent’s first volunteer fire department, Chile’s first public library, and the oldest Spanish language newspaper in continuous publication in the world. The opening of the Panama Canal and reduction in ship traffic dealt a staggering blow to Valparaíso, though the city has staged an impressive renaissance in recent years.
Though nearby San Antonio has taken the reins as the country’s most commercially important seaport (greater tonnage moved), the City of Valparaíso remains a vibrant center of Chilean culture, and the Greater Valparaíso metropolitan area (which includes Valparaíso, Viña del Mar, Quilpué and Villa Alemana) has the third largest concentration of population in the country after Greater Santiago and Greater Concepción.
Nicknamed “The Jewel of the Pacific”, Valparaíso was declared a world heritage site based upon its improvised urban design and unique architecture. In 1996, the World Monuments Fund declared Valparaíso’s unusual system of funicular elevators (highly-inclined cable cars) one of the world’s 100 most endangered historical treasures.
In 1998, grassroots activists convinced the Chilean government and local authorities to apply for UNESCO world heritage status for Valparaíso. Valparaíso was declared a World Heritage Site in 2003. Built upon dozens of steep hillsides overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Valparaíso boasts a labyrinth of streets and cobblestone alleyways, embodying a rich architectural and cultural legacy. Valparaíso is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Wikitravel does note however, “In the context of Chile being a relatively safe country, Valparaíso is amongst its more dangerous locales, like many harbor cities around the world. The port area (called ‘Puerto’) is generally considered to be dangerous at night.”
- Iglesia de la Matriz
- Sotomayor Square
- 16 remaining “funiculars” (called ascensores): 15 public (national monuments) & 1 private (which belongs to “Hospital Carlos Van Buren”).
- The Concepcion & Alegre Historical District
- The Bellavista hill, which has the “Museo a Cielo Abierto” or “open sky museum”
- Monument to Admiral Lord Thomas Alexander Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald
- Monument to Manuel Blanco Encalada, first Chilean President
During Valparaíso’s golden age (1848–1914), the city received large numbers of immigrants, primarily from Europe. The immigrant communities left a unique imprint on the city’s noteworthy architecture. Each community built its own churches and schools, while many also founded other noteworthy cultural and economic institutions.
The largest immigrant communities came from England, Germany, and Italy, each developing their own hillside neighbourhood, preserved today as National Historic Districts or “Zonas Típicas.”
During the second half of the twentieth century, Valparaíso experienced a great decline, as wealthy families de-gentrified the historic quarter, moving to bustling Santiago or nearby Viña del Mar. By the early 1990s, much of the city’s unique heritage had been lost and many Chileans had given up on the city. But in the mid 1990s, a grass roots preservation movement blossomed in Valparaíso.
The Fundación Valparaíso (Valparaíso Foundation), founded by the North American poet Todd Temkin, has executed major neighborhood redevelopment projects; has improved the city’s tourist infrastructure; and administers the city’s jazz, ethnic music, and opera festivals; among other projects. Some noteworthy foundation projects include the World Heritage Trail, Opera by the Sea, and Chile’s “Cultural Capital”.
During recent years, Mr. Temkin has used his influential Sunday column in El Mercurio de Valparaíso to advocate for many major policy issues, such as the creation of a “Ley Valparaíso” (Valparaíso Law) in the Chilean Congress, and the possibility that the Chilean government must guarantee funding for the preservation of Valparaíso’s beloved funicular elevators.
Valparaíso’s newspaper, El Mercurio de Valparaíso is the oldest Spanish-language newspaper in circulation in the world.
LUKAS Fundacion Renzo Pecchenino, maintains the drawings and paintings of the cartoonist/artist who came to symbolize Valparaíso in popular culture, in a new restored building overlooking the bay.
Valparaíso is also home to the so called “School of Valparaíso”, which is in fact the Faculty of Architecture & Urbanism of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso. The “School of Valparaíso” was in the 1960s and 1970s one of the most experimental, avant garde and controversial Architectural schools in the country.
In 2003, the Chilean Congress declared Valparaíso to be “Chile’s Cultural Capital” and home for the nation’s new cultural ministry.
Valparaíso stages a major festival attended by hundreds of thousands of participants on the last three days of every year. The festival culminates with a “New Year’s by the Sea” fireworks show, the biggest in all of Latin America, attended by a million tourists who fill the coastline and hillsides with a view of the bay.
The Chilean Congress meets in a modern building in the Almendral section of Valparaíso, after relocation from Santiago during the last years of the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. Although congressional activities were to be legally moved by a ruling in 1987, the newly built site only began to function as the seat of Congress during the government of Patricio Aylwin in 1990.
Nightlife activities in Valparaíso are claimed to be among the best in the country. Sailors and students alike favour the harbour sector due to the various traditional bars and nightclubs, among them “Bar La Playa”, “La Piedra Feliz”, El Huevo and “El Bar Inglés”, which can be found near Plaza Sotomayor.
University students now meet at a number of local nightclubs, bars, and discothèques. A vivid guide to Valparaíso can be found in the novels of Cayetano Brule, the private detective who lives in a Victorian house, in the picturesque Paseo Gervasoni in Cerro Concepción.
Valparaíso is the birthplace of many historically significant figures, including:
- Augusto Pinochet
- Salvador Allende
- Sergio Badilla Castillo founder of poetic transrealism in contemporary poetry
- Camilo Mori
- Roberto Ampuero, author of the internationally published novels about the private eye Cayetano Brulé and “Hijo Ilustre” of Valparaíso
- John Christian Watson Australia’s third Prime Minister
- Tom Araya Vocalist of thrash metal band Slayer
- It has also been the residence of many artists, such as Chilean poet Pablo Neruda and Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío