Chile Travel: Valparaiso History and Information

Read about Valparaiso, a Chile travel destination. This city has long been important for its strategic location on the Pacific coast.   

Valparaiso is located 200 miles (120 km) northwest of Santiago and is an excellent addition to any Chile travel package. It has historically been important as a seaport because of its strategic location on the Pacific coast, linking the capital city to the entire continent and indeed across the globe.

The economic growth of Valparaiso began shortly after independence from the Spanish Empire was achieved in 1818. (Spain had had restrictive economic policies). Throughout the remainder of the 19th century, at a time when ships used the Magellan Straits to travel between the Atlantic and the Pacific, Valparaiso served as a refueling station and commercial center. Various buildings and institutions stand as testaments to this period of economic prosperity, including the Casa de Aduanas, the public library, the oldest continuously published Spanish language newspaper, and the first volunteer fire department.

The city has a unique topography – from the bowl-like bay, the city rises like an amphitheater, climbing up the steep hills and into the valleys. The city was settled somewhat haphazardly and in accordance with the uneven geography. The port occupies the waterfront while residences and the financial and commercial areas rise up into the hills. Valparaiso appears to be on the verge of sliding into the sea. An estimated 42 hills make up the city, however, the exact number is number dispute. Funiculars were built to ease access for pedestrians from the lower to the higher part of the city; 15 of these are still in operation.

Given its history as an port town, Valparaiso has hosted various immigrant groups, attracted to the city by economic opportunity. British, German, French, and other European influences are most evident in the architecture. Alegre and Concepcion hills are notable for being among the first urban areas in the city, and old casonas, churches, walkways, and funiculars stand witness to this mixed history.

Valparaiso is known by various names. According to tradition, when the San Francisco church was built in the 1840s, its belltower was the highest point in the city. Visible even to sailors coming into the bay from the open sea, they would cry out “there’s Pancho.” (Pancho is the nickname for Francisco.) Other names are “the jewel of the Pacific” and “Valpo.”

Travelers to Valparaiso should definitely visit the Prat Dock and bank district on the waterfront as well as La Matriz Church and La Sebastiana, the house of Pablo Neruda filled with myriad curiosities. Valparaiso has achieved fame for its New Year’s Eve fireworks display and, if visiting in December/January, travelers should join in with the locals to find an optimal viewing spot on one of the hills.

Viña del Mar is a beach resort neighboring Valparaiso and is located 10 minutes by train. In FebruaryComputer Technology Articles, Viña hosts the International Song Festival.

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