Situated at the foot of 45 hills along the Chilean coast, Valparaíso was a key port in the South Pacific during the 20th century before the construction of the Panama Canal. Thanks to its rapid industrial and commercial growth, the port underwent an urban transformation, attracting thousands of foreigners and cementing its reputation as a bustling South American cosmopolis rich in society, culture, and architecture.
Described by The Guardian as a "Berlin by the seaside", Valparaiso's historic downtown was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2003 and the city's cultural and architectural wealth make it a must-see for tourists and architecture aficionados alike.
In this article, we present a guide written by one of the city's many enthusiasts that will give a complete and in-depth look at the port's many treasures. The guide is written as if for a walking tour, starting in Plaza Sotomayor, the city's main square. The route can be divided into two days, with the first part ending at the Palacio Baburizza and the second beginning with the Valparaiso Cultural Park. Take a tip from the experts--if you get lost, don't trust an app to find your way. Ask a local!
Declared a national landmark along with the buildings encircling it, the plaza is crowned by the Monument to the Heroes of Iquique (1886), under which lies the "Tomb of Heroes" where the remains of 22 fallen combatants from the Battle of Iquique, one of the principal battles in the War of the Pacific, are laid. Every May 21, people gather for Navy Day to commemorate the battle with a ceremony led by the president and the Chilean Navy.
Ex Intendencia (Navy Building) / Ernesto Urquieta
Inspired by Paris' Hôtel de Ville, the Valparaiso Intendencia (Navy Building) was inaugurated in 1910 as a part of the celebrations for Chile's 100th year of independence. It originally housed the General Arms Command, the Public Works Headquarters, the Treasury, and the mayor's quarters as well as a presidential residence until 1929 when the Cerro Castillo Palace was built in Viña del Mar. Following the military coup in 1973, the building was taken over by the Marines, who converted it into headquarters for the Navy, which it remains to this day. The building was declared a National Monument in 1979.
Ministry of Culture, Art, and Heritage / Marcelo Deglin
Plaza Sotomayor 233
An embodiment of Bauhaus design principles, this reinforced concrete building housed the Valparaiso Post Office between 1942 and 2001, before the office moved outside of the city. In 2003, it became the headquarters for the National Council on Culture and the Arts, which became the Ministry of Culture, Arts, and Heritage in 2018. It is currently the only ministry with headquarters outside of the capital, Santiago.
National Customs Building + Port Station / Luis Herreros Erquiaga
Plaza Sotomayor 60
Sotomayor Plaza's transformation in 1934 prompted the creation a "doorstep between the city and the ocean," framed by two identical towers standing 35 meters tall. In 1935, the director of the Public Railroad Works commissioned the construction of the Port Station, entrusting the project to architect Luis Herros Erquiaga. Soon after, the Navy's Department of Architecture commissioned the construction of the National Customs Building in front of the new train station, a symbolic marker between the city limits and the Muelle Prat.
Turri Clock Tower / Augusto Geiger
Inaugurated in 1924, the official name of this building, crowned by a large Swiss clock, is the Agustín Edwards Building. It is believed that the clock tower's name comes from the Casa E. Turri, one of the first businesses to occupy the building's ground floor in the 1920s.
El Mercurio of Valparaíso / Carlos Barroilhet + Augusto Geiger
Since 1901, the building has housed the oldest Spanish language newspaper still in circulation, founded in 1827. Designed with an eclectic array of architectural styles, the building features a facade marked by elements of the Renaissance, gigantic dimensions, and a balustrade. Atop the building stands a statue of the Roman god Mercury.
Duoc UC Extension Center / Sabbagh Arquitectos
Built between 1881 and 1883 for Luis Cousiño Goyenechea, this French Neo-Baroque style building was once called the "Mousetrap" due to its abandonment and subsequent deterioration between 1997 and 2007. That same year the Center for Technical Education at DUOC UC acquired the building and transformed it into an extension center for the school. It was declared a National Monument in 1994.
Aníbal Pinto Plaza
Originally known as the Plaza del Orden, the plaza, declared a National Site in 1976, is the gateway to the bars and restaurants that line the streets Cumming and Almirante Montt. On its southeastern side is the Ivens Bookstore and the Neptune Fountain by French sculptor Gabriel Vital-Dubray, surrounded by the Cinzano bar, the Cooperativa Vitalicia Building (the tallest building in Chile when it was inaugurated in 1947), the ex Café Riquet, the Hotel Dimmier and the current Intendancy of Valparaíso. From the plaza, you can see the Hotel Brighton on Concepción Hill.
From the inauguration of the first funicular on Concepción Hill in 1883, this public transportation network has become an icon of the city and a symbol of its economic development towards the end of the 20th century. At one time, there were 30 funiculars in operation. Today, only 16 remain and of those, only 7 are functional while the rest are undergoing restoration.
The 16 surviving funiculars have been declared National Monuments: Concepción (1883), Cordillera (1894), El Peral (1902), Reina Victoria (1902), Mariposas (1904), Florida (1906), Barón (1906), Larraín (1909), Lecheros (1911), Espíritu Santo (1911), Monjas (1912), Villaseca (1913), San Agustín (1913), Artillería (1914), Polanco (1915, the only underground and vertical lift), Hospital van Buren (1929, for the use of hospital staff).
Dimalow Walkway + Fauna + Internado
Dimalow Walk connects Alegre Hill —the most touristy of Valpo's many hills— with the Reina Victoria funicular, which connects to base of the city. With an unrivaled view of Panteon Hill, Aníbal Pinto Plaza, and Carcel Hill, the walkway contains two of Fantuzzi + Rodillo Arquitectos' most distinguished projects: the Hotel Fauna (2012) and the El Internado restaurant (2015).
Atkinson + Gervasoni Walkways
Both walkways feature sweeping panoramic views of the bay and are flanked by rows the colorful houses endemic to the city. The Atkinson Walkway is bordered to the south by the Hotel Brighton with the Gervasoni connects to the Concepción Funicular and the Museo Mirador Lukas, a tribute to artist Renzo Pecchenino.
Baburizza Palace / Renato Schiavon + Arnaldo Barison
Paseo Yugoslavo, Cerro Alegre
Originally built for businessman Ottorino Zanelli in 1916, the house was instead acquired by Croatian business magnate Pascual Baburizza in 1925. It's distinguished by its eclectic style, with elements of art-nouveau in its facade and a variety of other features like towers and columns. Three years after acquiring the house, Baburizza built a retaining wall in order to stop erosion--thus Paseo Yugoslavo was born. The walkway provides an unobstructed view of Valparaiso and is easily accessible by the El Peral funicular or the Apollo stairway.
Valparaíso Cultural Park / HLPS
Cárcel 471, Cerro Cárcel
At one time, this space housed the Valparaiso jail. After years of abandonment and speculation—even Oscar Niemeyer "gifted" a design for a potential cultural center that was subsequently rejected by the community—in 2010 the space was revamped as a cultural park following a public design competition. In 2015 and 2017, it was the venue for Chile's Architecture Biennale. The 2017 event saw the debut of La Serpentina, a playground design by ELEMENTAL for Somos Choapa, that was given a permanent place in the park.
Valparaíso General Cemetery
Cerro Panteón connects the three cemeteries surrounding by Dinamarca street: the Cementerio General (General Cemetery) (1825), whose neo-classical portico is the work of Swiss Augusto Geiger; el Cementerio de Disidentes (The Cemetery of Dissidents) (1825), the first protestant cemetery in Chile, and the Cementerio N°2 (Cemetery #2) (1845) whose facade was also designed by Geiger and features 12 Doric columns. The three cemeteries were declared National Monuments in 2005.
Cardonal Market / Eduardo Feureisen
Constructed with iron by Eduardo Feureisen in 1912, the produce market features a second floor dedicated to typical Chilean eateries and was built to replace the original structure from 1855 that was destroyed by an earthquake in 1906. This is one of two markets at the base of Valparaiso, the other being the Port Market that was closed for 8 years following the 2010 earthquake.
Catholic University of Valparaíso / Ernesto Urquieta
The university's construction was made possible by the Fundación Isabel Caces de Brown on the part of the bishop of the Diocese who aimed to improve technical education. Inspired by the eclectic historicism of the 1950s, the school came to embody the most radical methodology of pedagogy in Latin America, as seen in the Ciudad Abierta de Ritoque (founded in 1970). It was declared a National Monument in 2003.
Federico Santa María Technical University / Smith Solar & Smith Miller
Avenida España 1680, cerro Barón o Los Placeres
The last will and testament of businessman Federico Santa María stipulated the creation of a school of arts and offices, whose design was entrusted to father and son team Josué Smith Solar and José Tomás Edison Smith Miller after the duo won the commission in a design competition. Inspired by the pavilions of both Oxford and Cambridge, the main building, a neo-gothic citadel surrounded by gardens, features a library that overlooks the bay and an amphitheatre.
Ferrari 692, cerro Florida
Originally built for Spanish manufacturer builder Sebastián Callao before his death in 1949, the house was bought and finished by Chilean poet and Nobel Prize winner Pablo Neruda in 1959. After 3 years of construction, the house was inaugurated on September 18, becoming one of three homes that the poet Neruda would own, along with La Chascona (Santiago) and the Isla Negra House (El Quisco). It was declared a National Monument in 2011.
Población Márquez de Valparaíso / Pedro Goldsack
Márquez 5, cerro Santo Domingo
Built between 1946 and 1949, the Población Márquez is considered to be one of Chile's first public housing complexes. Commissioned by president Gabriel González Videla in collaboration with the National Housing Commission, the complex consists of 5 sloping apartment blocks as well as open public spaces that fit the abrupt topography of calle Márquez.
National Congress / Juan Cárdenas + José Covacevic + Raúl Farrú
Av. Pedro Montt s/n
Snubbed by Valparaiso's tour guides and nowhere to be seen in the many souvenir stands, the current National Congress building is the result of a design contest commissioned under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in 1988 in order to build a legislative building in accordance with the 1980 Chilean Constitution. Its monumental scale, blatantly out of place given its surroundings, as well as its questionable postmodern aesthetic and the conditions under which it was designed and built have made it the topic of heated discussion regarding its value and place within a city that was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003.
Across from the National Congress you can find O'Higgins Plaza —currently under remodelling—; to the south, the 12 Apostles Church (1876), and to the west, Argentina Avenue where you can visit an open air book market every Wednesday and Saturday and take a glimpse at the Solidarity sculpture by Mario Irarrázaval.
The list of works and places suggested to visit in Valparaiso:
- Ex Intendencia
- Ministry of Culture, Art, and Heritage
- Customs Building + Puerto Station
- Turri Clock Tower
- The Mercurio of Valparaíso
- Duoc UC Extension Center
- Plaza Aníbal Pinto
- Valparaíso Funiculars
- Dimalow Walkway + Fauna + Internado
- Atkinson Walkway + Gervasoni Walkway
- Baburizza Palace
- Valparaíso Cultural Park
- General Cemetery of Valparaíso
- Cardonal Market
- Catholic University of Valparaíso
- Federico Santa María Technical University
- La Sebastiana
- Población Márquez de Valparaíso
- National Congress
- The Urban Landscape as a New Postcard of Chile: The Cities of Santiago, Valparaíso, and Osorno, 1930-1960 (Cortés et al, 2015) and Valparaíso: un itinerario de descubrimientos (Junta de Andalucía. Spain. Council of Public Works and Transportation, 2005). Special thanks to Alberto Texido and Sebastián Machuca.