Sunday, February 16, 2014

42 Hills, Tons of Art and Histroy: Valparaiso

The colorful punk on the wall seems not to like it all that much to have this American tourist right between her thighs , while the lady does not seem to be aware of her delicate position at all. The young Chilean, guide of the American tourist group speaks with a broad U.S. accent, he explains the murals left , the paintings and graffitis on the right. It is not before he starts explaining artist and painting of what is exactly behind the lady in blue that she feels uncomfortable. Now she realises and takes a few steps back, since the attention of the whole group suddenly catches her, almost being one with the girl presenting herself in this vulgar position.

Much happier overlooks a girl with beautiful brown hair the scene of the tourist group. The tourists with their little backpacks and baseball caps are real, the pretty brunette not quite. She does not belong to an American group of tourist. No, she is part of the omnipresent art in the streets of Valparaiso . Art and culture that shows through the ever changing urban art on the city's walls that distingish Valparaiso. But the Fasznation for this over 42 Cerros - hills - extending city does not end here .

The chain rattles at the bow of the ship, the anchor sinking to eventually burring itself in the sand of this lush green, north-facing bay. All of this happens a couple of years before the blue truck ever sets its wheels on South American ground, we count the year 1536: Juan de Saavedra, a fancy Spaniard in an even fancier costume stands on board, just a year after he had conquered Peru at his father's side. At that very momoent he has no idea that the pretty bay in which he sets anchor that day, would one day be one of the most important ports at Americas pacific coast, right in line with San Francisco, yes exactly, that San Francisco. Until then, however, a few more years have to pass. First ir requires an Italian to set anchor in the bay.

Eight years pass since Jaun de Saavedra vessel settled in the green waters of the bay. Now 1544, another Jaun anchored in the bay, no not famous Don Juan, but the Italian Juan Bautista Pastene is founding Valparaiso. But the Italo with the goatee has no idea of how much history at the small city he has just founded will happen in the years to come. After the Spaniards and the Italos it is now on whom? Right, the English. Francis Drake tough was not satisfied with a drink in a waterfront bar. As nameless pirates briefly before and after him he robs not just the warehouses at the harbor of the growing city at the Pacific but at the same time all the private homes of the little colonial town. Years later Francis Drake will be a celebrated hero on his home grounds in the UK. Nevertheless, Valparaiso's status of being second most important West Pacific port and the resulting wealth should get lost again .

In 1908, the year Salvador Allende was born, it might have been foreseeable already, that the city's importance as a harbour is about to get lost. 1914 the ships heading up the west coast of the US to the ports of San Francisco and further up as far as Vancouver will no longer have to sail around Cape Horn or through the dangerous strait of Magallan. What happened? One year before the birth of another man who will write Chilean and in world history, Augusto Pinochet, the Panama Canal celebrates its opening. The ships save many, many days and miles and pass through the channel in Central America instead of the Strait of Magellan or Cape Horn and do no longer stop in the bay in front of the 42 hills.

Years later , 1973: Another abrupt end. This time for the socialist government of President Allende, whose plan was to shape Chile into a democratic socialist country. Not only his plans take an abrupt end , his life as well. In the storms of the US funded and supported military coup of General Augusto Pinochet, President Allende commits suicide. - As children little Augusto probably kicked his soccer ball right through the same streets of Valparaiso as the just a few years older Salvador, no one knowing that the former is to become the largest and ultimately devastating enemy of Salvador Allende one day.

From 1973 to 1990, the reign of the dictator, born in the same city as the last democratically elected President, lasts. Today, 24 years after the dictatorship: Around three hundred thousand people live on, between and around those 42 hills of Valparaiso. Agglomerations included this results in a city of similar size as my hometown Zurich; approximately one million inhabitants. Valparaiso is now the seat of the Congress of Chile, the harbor is the home port of the fleet of the Chilean Navy and claims back its importance through the economic boom of the country. Since 1952 the only trolley bus of the country runs trough the streets of the city, if you are lucky you can even see one of the original buses from the 50s. 

The city , around and between the 42 hills is not only the seat of the Congress, it is probalby the country's most important urban center apart from Santiago and it also has built up successfully maintained its reputations for being the country's capital of culture and art. It has long been a magnet for artists, poets, philosophers and writers.

Valparaiso may not be your typical tourist stop on your South America trip but one I strongly recommend not to miss!

Many more pictures to Valparaiso and Chile HERE.

Sources of Information for this blog post: 
Lonely Planet Chile & Easter Islands
Footprint Southamerica Handbook
CIA Worldfactbook on-line version

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