City of Murals
Valparaíso is a stunning coastal city known for its grit and artistic expression. The grit borne from a well earned reputation as a rowdy port town frequented by bulky, seafarer types. Nowadays the saltier, rougher elements are still present in some of the distant upper reaches of the city but the mariners we saw in the port area tended to be smart looking naval officers decked out in fine cut, dark uniforms trimmed with gold thread and bronze buttons. The ruddy wooden vessels that once made the impossibly arduous journey around Cape Horn through treacherous and frigid antarctic waters have also long been replaced. Now, massive freighters are able to nimbly cruise through the panama canal avoiding thousands of kilometers of southern sailing and these modern behemoths are loaded by towering equipment capable of hoisting and stacking house-sized containers with surprising speed and agility. These machines have replaced longshoremen who worked the once extensive docklands loading and unloading a vast array of exotic and essential cargo.
Like the shipping, the local art has morphed through the decades and continues to flourish. Most vividly expressed in the countless murals found on most buildings of the old quarter. The city was founded by the Spanish but it was British money and building prowess that made the biggest lasting impact. Many impressive buildings in the downtown core are constructed from formidably large quarried stones and fronted with imperial looking pillars. This is the architectural legacy of the many huge fortunes earned by early 19th century merchant families drawn from Great Britain by opportunity in the newly independent states of South America. Over the wildly tumultuous twenty century, coastal Chile was swept by the same forces of history shaping North America and Europe, but it emerged largely unscathed by war as a stable, prosperous and fiercely independent part of the country.
Valparaíso continues to embody a unique Chilean style and the buildings and walls of the old town are emblazoned with riots of colour and contemporary images and shapes. Think New York tagging meets Salvador Dalí. We loved wandering the hilly streets and riding the many funiculars. Every new stop on these hillside elevators deposited us into some new maze of lanes and winding streets. The higher stops had the added value of providing wide and clear views of the bustling city below and spreading out on both sides of the coast. The day wandering the streets of this unique place are firmly planted in our collective memories of Chile.