Valparaiso (Chile)

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Valparaíso, Chile, was arguably the leading Pacific port in the Americas during the nineteenth century, serving as a key financial center and base for British merchants (and the British navy) in the hemisphere. Valparaíso is also noteworthy as the birthplace of Salvador Isabelino Allende Gossens, president of Chile from 1970 to 1973, and as the seat of the Chilean congress since 1990.

Valparaíso, or "vale of paradise," is located seventy-four miles northwest of the capital, Santiago. The city is set on a thin coastal shelf that narrows at points to only five city blocks. A steep escarpment rings the city, with ascensores (funicular railways)—Valparaíso's signature feature—providing transportation up and down the hillsides.

The city's founding remains a matter of historical controversy, although most scholars credit Juan de Saavedra (d. 1554), an officer with the Spanish explorer Diego de Almagro, who discovered the site in 1536 and named it after his hometown in Spain. The port grew in importance during the colonial period; Valparaíso was the first good stopping place for ships rounding the tip of South America into the Pacific Ocean. The colonial city also developed a flourishing contraband trade. Valparaíso was repeatedly attacked by pirates in the colonial period, and suffered seven major assaults, including attacks by Francis Drake (c. 1540–1596) in December 1578 and Richard Hawkins (c. 1562–1622) in April 1594.

In the late colonial period Valparaíso's prosperity rose with the opening of trade under the Bourbon Reforms. Following independence in 1818, commerce increased further, with Great Britain becoming the port's leading trading partner. British vessels crowded into the harbor and the English merchant community in Valparaíso grew in size and financial importance. These and other commercially active European immigrants helped to create the distinct cultural blend for which Valparaíso is still known. Disasters, both natural and human-caused, rocked Valparaíso. An earthquake in November 1822 destroyed much of the city. War with Spain brought a naval bombardment of the harbor in March 1866 that laid waste to vast sections of Valparaíso. In August 1906 a devastating earthquake and fire all but destroyed the city.

In the mid-nineteenth century Valparaíso served as the principal port for the export of Chilean wheat. The city's commercial prominence rose again after the completion of a railway to the capital in 1863, a project directed by the U.S. entrepreneur Henry Meiggs (1811–1877). For much of the second half of the nineteenth century Valparaíso was the largest city in Chile. However, the emergence of nitrate exports (a mineral used as a fertilizer and in making gunpowder), mined and shipped from the far north of Chile, diminished Valparaíso's importance in exports in the late nineteenth century. Nevertheless, the city continued as the leading port for Chilean imports, taking in roughly two-thirds of the nation's total, and still handed about one-third of Chile's exports.

The opening of the Panamá Canal 1914 diminished Valparaíso's importance. With the route around Cape Horn no longer necessary, Valparaíso became a port at the end of the world, far from principal trade routes. The slide has continued; Valparaíso is no longer even the largest port in Chile, having been eclipsed by nearby San Antonio.

Valparaíso's population rose steadily from 3,000 in 1700 to 25,000 in 1830, 70,000 in 1865, 120,000 in 1885, and 193,000 in 1930. But given the city's cramped geography, there were limits to its growth. Valparaíso's population reached roughly a quarter of a million in 1960 but has not changed significantly since that time.

Valparaíso recaptured some of its former fame when it became the seat of the Chilean congress, though the new building's design quickly became the subject of considerable criticism. In 2003 Valparaíso was named Chile's "cultural capital" by the congress. In that year Valparaíso's historic quarter was also declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Valparaíso continues to serve as the home base for the Chilean navy.

See alsoChile: The Nineteenth Century; Chile: The Twentieth Century; Meiggs, Henry.


Calderon, Alfonso, with Marilis Schlotfeldt. Memorial de Valparaíso en los 450 años de su descubrimiento. Valparaíso, Chile: Universitarias de Valparaíso, 1986.

Collier, Simon, and William F. Sater. A History of Chile: 1808–1994. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Godoy, Leopoldo Sáez. Valparaíso 1536–1986: Primera jornada de historia urbana. Valparaíso, Chile: Ediciones Altazor, 1987.

Godoy, Leopoldo Sáez. Valparaíso: Lugares, nombres y personajes, siglos XVI-XXI. Valparaíso, Chile: Ediciones de Playa Ancha, 2001.

Kinsbruner, Jay. Chile: A Historical Interpretation. New York: Harper and Row, 1973.

Loveman, Brian. Chile: The Legacy of Hispanic Capitalism, 2nd edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

Pineo, Ronn. "Public Health Care in Valparaíso, Chile." In Cities of Hope: People, Protests, and Progress in Urbanizing Latin America, 1870–1930, ed. Ronn Pineo and James A. Baer. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1998.

                                               Ronn Pineo

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Valparaiso (vălpərī´zō), Span. Valparaíso (bälpäräē´sō) [Span.,=vale of paradise], city (1992 pop. 276,737), capital of Valparaiso region, central Chile. It is the chief port of Chile and the terminus of a trans-Andean railroad. An important industrial center, it manufactures textiles, shoes and leather goods, paint, and chemicals. From a narrow waterfront terrace, steep hills rise to make Valparaiso an amphitheater, with wharves and business quarters at the base and residential sections above. So steep is the ascent that funicular railways are used. The city faces a wide bay, which, although partly protected by breakwaters, often carries severe northern gales in the winter. However, Valparaiso's climate is generally mild, and thousands of tourists visit the region, particularly nearby Viña del Mar. Earthquakes are common, at times causing significant damage, and the city's hills are subject occasionally (most recently in 2014) to wildfires that can be difficult to contain.

Valparaiso was founded in 1536 by the Spanish conquistador Juan de Saavedra, but it was not permanently established until 1544 by Pedro de Valdivia. It was frequently raided by English and Dutch pirates throughout the 16th and 17th cent. Relatively unimportant in colonial times, the city grew in the late 19th cent. In 1990 it became the seat of the Chilean congress. Valparaiso has several museums, a Catholic university, a technical school, and a naval academy.

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Valparaíso Main port of Chile and capital of Valparaíso region, 100km (60mi) w of Santiago. Founded in 1536, Valparaíso has always been vulnerable to earthquakes. As well as Chile's chief port, it is also a cultural centre, with two universities and museums of fine arts and natural history. Industries: chemicals, textiles, sugar refining, vegetable oils, paint. Pop. (1999) 285,000.

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Valparaiso (vălpərā´zō), city (1990 pop. 24,414), seat of Porter co., NW Ind.; inc. 1850. There is popcorn processing, tool and die making, and the manufacture of metal products, liquid fertilizer, storage tanks, ferrite powder, paving materials, firefighting equipment, magnets, electronics, food-processing equipment, and plastics. The city is the seat of Valparaiso Univ.

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