In the 19th century, the riches of Chile
aroused the greed of European and American powers, resulting in the establishment of large industrial plants, including intensive saltpetre mining companies. The production and exploitation of mining products was a catalyst in Chile’s economic and social development, of robust urban development in mining regions, of a particular architecture, and of an intense international cultural life brought about by the presence of foreign companies. Beginning in 1920, the manufacture of synthetic products by German industries led to the decline of the mines. The abandoned mine sites are considered “ghost towns”. In fact, the mining operation buildings, the numerous dwellings seemingly deserted in haste by their occupants, and the vast desert panorama that provides the setting for this architecture make these sites particularly striking representations of a bygone era in this country.
At the request of Chilean authorities, under the framework of the France-UNESCO Cooperation Agreement, assistance was provided for preparation of a nomination dossier and the establishment of a management plan for the Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter Works. The property was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2005.