During our stay in Santiago, we took a day trip to Valparaíso. This coastal town is about seventy miles west of Santiago and was at one time the largest and most important city in South America. Valparaíso to me is a place reborn. It is characterized by 19th century prominence. Almost every building in sight was built in the late 19th century and was obviously owned by the very rich and powerful commerce barons of the time. What is more striking however, is that these once impressive structures look like they have been abandoned for a few generations and are now only recently coming back to life.
The city was once the largest, and most important port hub for ships making the trek from the Pacific to the Atlantic and many Europeans particularly British, Germans, and Italians, moved to the city in search of riches in the booming shipping industry. However, upon the construction of the Panama Canal in 1915, the city suffered a major economic collapse as there was no longer business for its port. The city subsequently endured a European exodus and many of the wealthier business people returned to their home countries.
In recent decades, this city has drawn the attention of the art world and has seen a major resurgance. Many of the 19th century buildings have seen their insides refurbished and their outsides adorned with colorful and varied street art. Now almost every corner and every surface of the city displays colorful and creative graffiti and mixed media art displays. Artists venture here from all over the world to paint, and the city is a veritable canvas. Valparaíso has recently been named a UNESCO world heritage site for its confluence of 19th century architecture and thriving current urban art scene. It is a veritable feast for the eyes, only further highlighted by its foggy skies, steep hills, and cobbled alleys. Affectionately known as Little San Francisco, this city is one of the most important areas of Chile even to this date.
We spent the day walking the streets, viewing the art, and trying to act like we weren’t winded. Valparaíso truly drew us in and was a living example of rebirth and preservation. // Jeff