When in Valparaíso ..... a World Heritage Site

While I was planning how to spend my days in Chile, I almost did not go to Valparaíso. The pictures that I saw on the internet and in my guide book were just not that enticing. However, on someone’s recommendation I did go and it turned out to be the highlight of my trip.

Valparaíso is a harbour city, about 70 km from Santiago. Founded in the 1540’s, it became the South Pacific’s greatest port in the 1800’s and only started to experience a decline when the Panama Canal was built. The amazing thing is that the city is built upon 45 steep towering hillsides from a narrow strip of coast. These hills are each covered by a maze of rainbow-coloured houses and shops (they use left-over paint from the ships in the harbour, hence the bright colours), cobblestone alleyways and labyrinth streets, funiculars and stairway footpaths. Somehow, between all the poverty and the dilapidated state of the buildings, there is this unique, faded grandeur that makes Valparaíso one of the most intriguing cities I’ve ever visited.

On the picture below you will see what the public transport in Valparaiso looks like. It is one of the funiculars, a sort of wooden carriage that slowly ascends the hills at very precipitous angles. Of the funiculars introduced between 1883 and 1912, 15 are still in use, including the first one ever opened. So, it rattles, it is crowded and maybe even scary to the tourist, but if you do not want to climb the stairways, it is the way to travel when you want to reach the hilltops.

The city is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site based upon its improvised urban design and unique architecture. In the two pictures below you first see the front and then the back of the same row of houses, built on a steep slope. It shows how the front entrance is in fact someone’s living room and five other families need to go through that house to reach their own.

This blog concludes my Chile trip (more on Rio from tomorrow). The little I saw of this amazing country surprised me. I now have a long list of destinations in Chile that I want to visit, including the Atacama Desert, Patagonia, the wine routes in the central valley, the ski-slopes of the Andes and Easter Island. But if I am lucky enough to return to Chile, the first item on the itinerary will be to go back to Valparaíso…

Image credits: 1) Wayfarer; All other photos by me

No comments:

Post a Comment