The colonial city of Valparaíso presents an excellent example of late 19th-century urban and architectural development in Latin America. Valparaíso is an exceptional testimony to the early phase of globalization in the late 19th century, when it became the leading commercial port on the sea routes of the Pacific coast of South America.
The colonial city of Valparaíso presents an excellent example of late 19th-century urban and architectural development in Latin America. In its natural amphitheater-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.
Located on central Chile’s Pacific coast, the Historic Quarter of the Seaport City of Valparaíso represents an extraordinary example of industrial-age heritage associated with the international sea trade of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The city has well preserved its interesting early industrial infrastructures, such as the numerous ‘elevators’ on the steep hillsides.
The city was the first and most important merchant port on the sea routes of the Pacific coast of South America that linked the Atlantic and Pacific oceans via the Strait of Magellan. It had a major commercial impact on its region from the 1880s until the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914. After this date its development slowed, allowing its harbor and distinctive urban fabric to survive as an exceptional testimony to the early phase of globalization.
Valparaíso’s historic quarter is located on the coastal plain and part way up the steep surrounding hills, where the city first developed. It is composed of five interlaced neighborhoods:
- La Matriz Church and Santo Domingo Square, located between the hills and the plain and comprised of the church and late 19th-century buildings typical of the seaport architecture
- Echaurren Square and Serrano Street, predominantly commercial in character and marked by the presence of the Port Market, commercial establishments and active street trade
- Prat Pier and Sotomayor and Justicia squares, comprising the main transversal axis of the area and containing the largest public spaces
- the Prat Street and Turri Square area around the foothill, featuring a number of examples of monumental architecture
- the two hills of Cerro Alegre and Cerro Concepción, a single neighborhood planned and developed to a large extent by German and English immigrants, with squares, viewing points, promenades, alleyways, stairways and the top stations of some of Valparaíso’s distinctive funicular elevators.
The outstanding nature of the historic quarter of Valparaíso results from a combination of three factors, all associated with its role as a port: its particular geographical and topographical environment; its urban forms, layout, infrastructure and architecture; and its attraction to and influence by people from around the world.
The character of Valparaíso was strongly marked by the geography of its location: the bay, the narrow coastal plains (largely artificial) and the steep hills scored by multiple ravines together created the city’s amphitheater-like layout.
Adaptation of the built environment to these difficult geographical conditions produced an innovative and creative urban ensemble that stressed the particularities of each architectural object, grounded in the technological and entrepreneurial mindset typical of the era.
Consistent with its preeminence, the city was populated and influenced by people from around the world. The urban fabric and cultural identity of Valparaíso are thus distinguished by a diversity that sets it apart from other Latin American cities.
From an urban perspective, the result of this challenging geography, modernizing impulse and intercultural dialogue is a fully original American city with the stamp of the late 19th century upon it.