The colonial city of Valparaíso presents an excellent example of late 19th-century urban and architectural development in Latin America. In its natural amphitheatre-like setting, the city is characterized by a vernacular urban fabric adapted to the hillsides that are dotted with a great variety of church spires. It contrasts with the geometrical layout utilized in the plain. The city has well preserved its interesting early industrial infrastructures, such as the numerous ‘elevators’ on the steep hillsides.
Historic Quarter of the Seaport City of Valparaíso
© Rodrigo Varas
Justification for Inscription
Criterion iii: Valparaíso is an exceptional testimony to the early phase of globalisation in the late 19th century, when it became the leading merchant port on the sea routes of the Pacific coast of South America.
The city of Valparaíso, the second largest in Chile, is exceptional testimony to the early phase of globalization in the late 19th century. It is located on the Pacific coast some 100 km north of Santiago, in the centre of the country. The geography of Valparaíso consists of a bay, a narrow coastal plain and a series of hills. The World Heritage site is located between the sea and the first terrace, in the area where the city first developed; it comprises part of the plain and surrounding hills, and is composed of five interlaced neighbourhoods:
- La Matríz Church and Santo Domingo Square lies between the hills and the plain. It is spatially linked with Plaza Echaurren and its surroundings, as well as with Cerro Santo Domingo. The architecture of La Matríz Church (1842), Valparaíso's founding church, although rebuilt four times after destruction by pirates and earthquakes, is typical transition between colonial and republican styles.It is surrounded by late 19th-century buildings, typical of the seaport architecture. The Plaza La Matríz is the centre of Valparaíso's most traditional religious activities.
- Echaurren Square and Serrano Street has a predominantly commercial character, marked by the presence of the Port Market, commercial establishments, and active street trade. The buildings represent three types: 'block building' or 'island building', facing four streets; 'head building', facing three streets; and buildings facing two streets. The most outstanding among the block-buildings is the Astoreca Building (1906), built for commercial and residential purposes in a symmetrical and orthogonal order.
- Prat Pier, Sotomayor and Justicia Squares and the Sea Museum Quarter comprises the main transversal axis of the area and has the largest public spaces. The square is surrounded by administrative and service buildings of different periods and styles. The Sea Museum, at the top of Cerro Cordillera, stands on the site of the old San José Castle, a fortress built to repel the attacks of corsairs and pirates.
- The Prat Street and Turri Square area evolves around the foothill and stretches out from Plaza Sotomayor to the beginning of Esmeralda Street, encompassing the Plazuela Turri as a singular public space. The area presents the markedly rectangular block characteristic of the plain, as well as its typical buildings, with frontage towards two or three streets. The buildings are examples of monumental architecture in their volume and formal expression.
- The two hills of Cerro Alegre and Cerro Concepción, separated by Urriola Street, form a single neighbourhood. To a large extent, this was planned and developed by German and English immigrants, starting from the first half of the 19th century. The area combines the different types of public space of Valparaíso: squares, viewing points, promenades, alleyways, stairways, the elevators' top stations, and the havens usually formed by street intersections and bifurcations.
Valparaíso used to have as many as 30 elevators, the oldest of which, the Concepción Elevator, was inaugurated in 1883. Generally, they have two wooden or metal cars, moving simultaneously in opposite directions. They are mounted on a platform to which are attached the wheels.
The territory was originally inhabited by Chango Indians, who lived on farming and fishing. The site was discovered by Juan de Saavedra in 1536, and the settlement was founded by Pedro de Valdivia in 1544, and it was designated the first port of the nation in 1554. After a disastrous earthquake in 1730, the inhabitants were forced to move on to the hillsides, thus developing the most characteristic feature of the town. From this time on, most of the settlement developed over the hills. The main economic resource gradually shifted from wheat to saltpetre. Following this development, the town was articulated into areas characterized by their principal activities, such as commerce, harbour, industry and business. Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC
The territory was originally inhabited by Chango Indians, who lived on farming and fishing. The site of Valparaíso in the Valley of Quintil, on the Pacific coast, was discovered by Juan de Saavedra in 1536. The settlement was founded by Pedro de Valdivia in 1544, and it was designated the first port of the nation in 1554. The settlement developed first in the areas known as Juna Gomez (today Carampangue), San Francisco, and San Agustin. At the end of the 16th century, a road connection was built from Valparaíso to Santiago. The Spanish immigrants introduced the Catholic faith, and built the first chapel in the settlement village, at the foot of the San Francisco ravine. The church of La Matríz was built there in 1658, followed by the construction of the fortresses. At this time, other religious orders arrived, including the Augustinians and the Franciscans, and the settlement started taking shape. The commercial centre and the warehouses occupied the main coastal area. The opening of Cape Horn meant intensive wheat trading from Valparaíso to El Callao in the 18th century. The urban layout developed mainly around two focal points, the seaport with the commercial centre, and the Almendral beach area with farmhouses and small businesses. After a disastrous earthquake in 1730, the inhabitants were forced to move on the hillsides, thus developing the most characteristic feature of the town. From this time on, most of the settlement developed over the hills.
With the independence of Chile in 1810, Valparaíso soon became the most important harbour town on the Pacific coast. This meant commercial transactions with Europe as well as with the United States, ending Chile's dependence on Spain. Around 1839-40, Valparaíso was granted independent administrative status as an Intendencia, and in 1842 it became the capital of the Province of Valparaíso, with fiscal warehouses and the Stock Exchange. At this time, the town attracted great numbers of immigrants from England, France, Germany, and the United States, contributing to the development of shipping and commerce. This influence can still be appreciated on the streets at the foot of hills in Arsenal (now Bustamante), La Planchada (now Serrano), La Aduana (now Prat) and Del Cabo (now Esmeralda). The city acquired a cosmopolitan image. In the 1840s and 1850s, more warehouses were built between the present Aduana Square and the Duprat fortress. In 1852, a railway was built to the inner cities of the region and to the capital, Santiago.
In the second half of the 19th century, the position of Valparaíso was further strengthened as the main harbour and commercial centre of the country, and its activities included mining activities with Tarapaca and Antofagasta. The main economic resource gradually shifted from wheat to saltpetre. Following this development, the town was articulated into areas characterized by their principal activities, such as commerce, harbour, industry, and business. The streets of Planchada and Aduana were the main areas for diplomatic missions, banks, and international agencies. Between 1847 and 1870, Valparaíso attained its characteristic identity as a commercial and financial centre. The town expanded, and the chain of hills was connected by the Cintura highway some 100 m above the sea, based on the project by Fermin Vivaceta in 1872.
In 1903, the electrical train system started operating, providing the first change to the 19th century urban environment. In 1906, a violent earthquake struck the region, causing damage especially in the downtown area, and leading to substantial reconstruction programmes. In addition, the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the national independence gave a further incentive to erect public, commercial, and private buildings of high quality. In 1914, however, the opening of the Panama Channel meant that Valparaíso lay aside from the great commercial routes between the two oceans. The economic crisis of saltpetre reduced the importance of the port, and, at the same time, Santiago consolidated its status as the political and economic centre of the country. The world economic crisis in 1929 further contributed to the change. Nevertheless, Valparaíso continued its development, even though facing serious social and economic problems. As a result, solutions were sought, and new construction activities expanded in the upper zones of the city, including the areas of Juan Gomez, San Francisco, San Juan de Dios, and de Jaime, the present Francia Avenue. Source: Advisory Body Evaluation