“The Jewel of the Pacific,” aka Valparaíso, is a beautiful city right next to Viña del Mar. It is historic, artistic, and fishy. (By fishy I mean there are fish markets. …)
On Sunday, a Valparaíso native gave us a tour of the city. He told us all about the city and showed us some really cool stuff. And now I’m going to impart this fascinating knowledge to you cause everyone needs to know how awesome Valpo is.
In the glory days, Valpo was a port city. The most important port city of the pacific, because it was the first that ships would stop in after sailing around Cape Horn.
But the completion of the Panama canal in 1914 made the importance and value of Valparaiso become non-existant overnight. The booming economy crashed, hard, and the city is still struggling to recover. Today, the people of Valpo live in the memory of their city’s Golden Age.
The port is still one of the most important industries in Valparaíso. Now, instead of a hundred ships, there are maybe twenty docked in the bay. Fishermen fish and there are huge, crazy marketplaces in which the fish and vegetables are all sold right next to each other and the cats climb and weave through the baskets of cabbages and apples.
It’s a city of contrasts. Some areas are really beautiful and clean and wealthy, but you walk down a staircase and across and alley and find people living in dirt poor conditions. It’s also extremely different from her sister city, Viña del Mar. Valpo was once wealthy, but after the earthquake in 1906, the upperclass moved to Viña or Santiago, leaving the lower class to clean up the mess. In contrast, Viña is rich with palaces and highrises and vacation homes. And there’s only a ten minute bus ride and a sign saying “Welcome to Valparaiso” to separate the cities.
The architecture of Valparaiso is fascinating! I’m not usually one to be interested in how buildings are build but this is actually cool. Okay so in 1906 there was a huge devastating earthquake that leveled the city. The people of Valpo needed to rebuild using cheap materials that would withstand earthquakes. The used wood frames filled with mud and covered it all using the sheet metal off of ships. These materials are strong but flexible so they would stand in earthquakes.
That worked well, until the metal began to rust. So the people looked to the shipyards for anti-rust paint. If the shipyards painted a boat yellow that week, they had yellow anti-rust paint so the person’s house would be yellow. Then their neighbors would say to themselves, “what an excellent idea!” and they’d head down to the shipyards for some yellow paint. But the ship dude would be out of yellow paint. However, since there was a blue boat today there was blue anti-rust paint so the neighbor’s house got painted blue. Thus, Valparaíso is a city of vibrant and unique colours.
Also, there are between 43 and 45 different “hills” or neighborhoods and each one has a unique architectural style. This is because when people began immegrating to Valpo all those years ago, the different countries would tend to live together. So there are British, German, Italian, Chilean, etc styles of architecture.
Valparaíso is the art capital of Chile. The walls of buildings and the streets are covered in beautiful art and murals. My camera died before I could take a picture of my favorite mural, so half of my adventures are undocumented, sadly.
We met some street artists and a little old Chilean man with a guitar who sang us Valparaíso’s two most famous songs. Here are youtube links to the songs:
Here are some pictures of the amazing artwork that can be seen somewhere or other in Valparaíso.
The city is a labyrinth with more staircases and broken cobblestone alleyways than streets. The best way to explore is to get lost.
Go to Valpo and get lost. I highly recommend it.