Valparaíso & Viña del Mar

Only at night the sister cities Valparaíso and Viña del Mar, abbreviated as Valpo-Viña, form a harmonious ensemble.

Throughout the day, nothing could be more unequal. Here is the legendary and wicked harbour of Valparaíso, with its surreal-looking ensemble of houses painted in bright colours covering the fact that he has already seen better days, there is the sophisticated Viña del Mar, reminiscent of the European seaside resorts of the French Riviera, with the obligatory beach promenade including a flower clock, casino and showy apartment blocks for the upper ten thousand.

Even though Valparaíso has been a World Heritage Site since 2003 and proudly refers to the fact that the national poet Neruda had moved here and not to the neighbour’s quarters, Valparaíso has not become a superficial beauty despite all the restoration work. If one climbs the hills around the Cerro Alegre using one of the Ascensores, those squeaky funiculars that Gustave Eiffel left to the port city, and looks over the shaky Victorian wooden houses down to the harbour with the equally dilapidated pier of the Muelle Vergara, one can hardly escape the thought of an old barge that is only held together by rust and paint. During the second half of the 19th century, Valparaíso played an important geopolitical role as the most important port for merchant ships on their route between the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean. It was here, where they moored to load goods or set off European migrants before or after crossing the Strait of Magellan.

The golden age of Valparaíso, which resembled that of San Francisco, when houses and shops sprang up like mushrooms and took possession of one hill after another, came to an abrupt end. The opening of the Panama Canal and the associated end of the shipping boom dealt the port city a blow that it has not recovered from to the present day. Latin America’s oldest stock exchange, the continent’s first voluntary fire brigade, Chile’s first public library and the “Mercurio de Valparaíso”, the oldest daily newspaper to be published continuously in Spanish, rather appeared as a reminder of the glorious times. Only in recent years Valparaíso, inspired by Unesco’s recognition of its architectural and urban heritage, has staged its impressive rebirth as the country’s cultural capital.

Valparaíso has been hit several times by devastating fires in recent years. The big fire in April 2014, which lasted for weeks, was triggered by two vultures who had settled on a power line above a rubbish dump and set it in motion in such a way that two lines touched each other. The spark of the short circuit first ignited the garbage and then an entire district.

Viña del Mar

During the summer months, Viña del Mar is the preferred seaside resort of the better-off Chileans, who then populate the beach of “La Reñaca” in their thousands, despite the icy water temperatures and strong currents even in summer. During this period (January and February) the annual “Festival Internacional de la Canción” takes place, one of the largest music festivals in South America. The venue for these and other cultural events is the Quinta Vergara open-air theatre, in the park behind the Palacio of the same name, built in 1906 by the Italian architect Ettore Petri as the family home of the Vergaras. Today, the Palacio houses a Fine Arts Museum, whose foundation is the family’s private collection of paintings.
Another family residence, that of the German-born industrialist Gustavo Adolfo Wulff Mowle, built in 1908 and extended like a castle in 1916, is one of Viña’s most striking buildings. The little castle called Castillo Wulff is situated directly by the sea at the foot of the Cerro Castillo and is one of the most popular photo motifs among tourists.
Viña del Mars sophisticated casino dates back to a time long before the introduction of the one-armed bandits and was opened in 1930. A unique opportunity to encounter the culture of the Easter Islands is offered by the Museo Fonck (Museo de Arqueología e Historia Francisco Fonck), which is well worth a visit. Its extensive and well presented archaeological collection includes one of six Moais outside the islands.