Approved by UNESCO in 1972 and signed by Chile in 1980, the Convention on World Cultural and Natural Heritage required the signatory countries to present a tentative list of “cultural and natural heritage properties” that could be included on the World Heritage List.
The list of 18 representative sites presented by Chile in 1998 included Valparaíso. In 1999 the first presentation of the coastal city was considered “insufficient” by the Executive Committee of UNESCO, and the Government of the time suspended the process to include necessary documentation in this regard. On July 2, 2003, the 21 members of the UNESCO Executive Committee, meeting in Paris, decided to declare the historic center of the port of Valparaíso a World Heritage Site.
Valparaíso was the first and most important merchant market on the Pacific Ocean coast of South America, due to its link between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans through the Strait of Magellan. The commercial impact was reflected in its architecture, developed strongly in the late 19th century. In this sense, UNESCO declared that “the colonial city of Valparaíso constitutes a remarkable example of urban and architectural development in Latin America at the end of the 19th century.”
The fact that Spanish colonial architecture was intertwined with other non-Hispanic European styles, especially Victorian, which were brought to this port by British immigrants, and developed extensively during the 19th century, has left an original imprint on the layout of the city. and indelible.
This architectural miscegenation was also due in part to the forced reconstruction after the gigantic Valparaíso earthquake of 1906, which forced architects and engineers to favor other construction systems that were more seismically stable, such as: in wood (also called: « balloon frame ‘), wrought iron and steel.
In fact, Valparaíso is one of the few places in the world where Victorian architecture was adapted to the topography of the place with such success. This has generated that styles that in the rest of the country seem exogenous, have taken on a great size and volume, for the simple fact of being executed on a hill.
Framed in a natural site in the form of an amphitheater, the city is characterized by a traditional urban fabric specially adapted to the surrounding hills, which contrasts with the geometric layout used on flat terrain.
Numerous works in various architectural styles mark the unique character of the Port, and recognized by the UNESCO declaration. For instance:
- Church of the Matrix.
- Turri clock, of marked French neoclassicism.
- El Mercurio building, also from the French neoclassical.
- Former Intendancy, currently the “Armada de Chile” Building, neoclassical in style.
- Building of the Valparaíso Stock Exchange, by the Chilean architect Carlos Federico Claussen.
- Museum of Fine Arts of Valparaíso, located in the Baburizza Palace, the work of the Italians Arnaldo Barison and Renato Schiavon.
- La Sebastiana, by the Spanish architect Sebastián Collado.
- Houses on Avenida Great Britain in Playa Ancha, mostly made by the Chilean architect Esteban Orlando Harrington.
With the aim of preserving the knowledge and understanding of the architectural heritage of Valparaíso, the architect Myriam Waisberg has published several books such as “Las Casas de Playa Ancha” and “Las Casas de Valparaíso”.
Deterioration and challenges
Having been granted the category of World Heritage Site, Valparaíso currently presents the enormous challenge of conserving and protecting its valuable buildings. In this sense, in February 2014, UNESCO warned of “rupture of the urban landscape” in a report requested by the Chilean Government on the effects of the growth of the city’s port terminal and the potential construction of the Mall Plaza Barón in the Bodega Simón Bolívar del Muelle Barón, a historic conservation property.
The rejection of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee led the President of the Republic, Michelle Bachelet, to form a heritage advisory commission in mid-June 2014 to analyze the future of projects that may impact the Simón Bolívar del Muelle Barón Winery. and made up of the Council of National Monuments (CMN), the Municipality of Valparaíso, the Ministry of Transport and Icomos Chile. Along these lines, at the end of October 2014, a group of architects from the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso presented a counterproposal for the construction of the Mall Plaza Barón.