Valparaíso is a major city, seaport, and educational center commune in Chile. Greater Valparaíso is the third largest metropolitan area in the country. Valparaíso is located northwest of Santiago and is one of the South Pacific's most important seaports. Valparaíso is the capital of Chile's third most populated administrative region and has been the headquarters for the Chilean National Congress since 1990.
Valparaíso played a very important geopolitical role in the second half of the 19th century, when the city served as a major stopover for ships traveling between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans by crossing the Straits of Magellan. Always a magnet for European immigrants, Valparaíso mushroomed during its golden age, when the city was known by international sailors as "Little San Francisco" and "The Jewel of the Pacific". In 2003, the historic quarter of Valparaíso was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a new national law named the city "Chile's Cultural Capital."
Examples of Valparaíso's former glory include Latin America's oldest stock exchange, the continent's first volunteer fire department, Chile's first public library, and the oldest Spanish language newspaper in continuous publication in the world, El Mercurio de Valparaíso. The opening of the Panama Canal and reduction in ship traffic dealt a staggering blow to Valparaíso. The second half of the twentieth century was not kind to Valparaíso, as many wealthy families abandoned the city. Over the past 15 years, the city has staged an impressive renaissance attracting many artists and cultural entrepreneurs who have set up shop in the city's hillside historic districts. Today, many thousands of tourists visit Valparaíso from around the world to marvel and the city's unique labyrinth of cobbled alleys and colorful buildings.
Though nearby San Antonio has become the country's most commercially viable seaport, the port of Valparaíso continues to be a major distribution center for container traffic, copper, and fruit exports. Valparaíso also receives growing attention from cruise ships which visit during the South American summer. Most significantly, Valparaíso has transformed itself into a major educational center with four large traditional universities and several large vocational colleges. The city has also become a shining beacon of Chilean culture, with many major festivals every year and street artists and musicians on every corner.
Valparaíso's bay was probably first populated by Picunches Indians, who were dedicated to agriculture. Other accounts say that it was the Changos who were nomads dedicated to fishing, and traveling between Caldera and Concepcion. Spanish explorers arrived in 1536, aboard the Santiaguillo, a supply ship sent by Diego de Almagro, who is considered the first European explorer, or discoverer, of Chile. The Santiaguillo carried men and supplies for Almagro's expedition, under the command of Juan de Saavedra, who named the town after his native village of Valparaíso de Arriba in Cuenca, Spain.
Valparaíso soon became a desired stopover for ships rounding South America via the Strait of Magellan and Cape Horn. It gained particular importance supporting and supplying the California Gold Rush (1848–1858). In its role as a major seaport, Valparaíso received immigrants from many European countries, mainly from Britain, Germany, France, Switzerland and Italy. German, French, Italian and English were commonly spoken among its citizens, who founded and published newspapers in these languages.
International immigration transformed the local culture from Spanish origins and Amerindian origins, including the construction of the first non-Catholic cemetery of Chile, The Cemetery of Dissidents. Football (soccer) was introduced to Chile by English immigrants, and the first private Catholic school in Chile was founded by French immigrants in Valparaíso: Le Collège des Sacrés Cœurs (The Sacred Hearts School) which has been operating for about 170 years. Immigrants from Scotland and Germany founded the first private secular schools, (The Mackay School, and Die Deutsche Schule, respectively). Immigrants formed the first volunteer fire-fighting units (still a volunteer activity in Chile). Their buildings reflected a variety of European styles, making Valparaíso more varied than some other Chilean cities.
In August 18, 1906; a major earthquake struck Valparaíso; there was extensive property damage and thousands of deaths. The Chilean doctor Carlos Van Buren, of U.S. descent, was involved in medical care of earthquake victims. He later established a modern hospital Carlos Van Buren Hospital in 1912.
The golden age of Valparaíso's commerce ended after the opening of the Panama Canal (1914). Shipping shifted to the canal as captains sought to avoid the risks of the Strait of Magellan. The port's use and traffic declined significantly, causing a decline in the city's economy. Since the turn of the 21st century, shipping has increased in the last few decades with fruit exports, increasing opening of the Chilean economy to world commerce, and larger-scale, Post-Panamax ships that do not fit the Panama Canal.
The city was affected by the 27 February 2010 earthquake.
On March 28, 1814, the USS Essex is defeated by British frigates Phoebe and Cherub during the War of 1812, leading to the deaths of 58 US Marines. (Captain David Porter, a survivor of this attack, would retire to Portersville, IN and request changing the name to Valparaíso, commemorating the only naval battle he ever lost.) By August 2, 1820, the Liberating Expedition of Peru sails from Valparaíso.
At half past ten on the evening of November 19, 1822 Valparaíso experiences occurs a violent earthquake that leaves the city in ruins; of the 16,000 residents, casualties included at least 66 adults and 12 children, as well as 110 people wounded. Among them was Account Liberator of Chile and later its Supreme Director Bernardo O'Higgins who was sleeping in the governor's mansion and died under its rubble. The next day a meteor trail was visible from Quillota to Valparaíso, seen as a religious experience for much of the population.
In 1826, the Royal Navy Great Britain establishes a South America Station in Valparaíso to maintain British naval interest in the region. It would remain until 1837 when it was relocated to Esquimalt, British Columbia.
On June 6, 1837, Minister Diego Portales is shot at the port outside of Baron Hill on suspicion of promoting conspirators who opposed the Peru-Bolivian Confederation, considered a turning point of Chilean public opinion and the purpose of the war.
By 1851, the first fire brigade in the country is formed. The next year potable running water becomes available, as well as the first telegraph service in Latin America, between the city and Santiago. It would be another four years before streetlights, with 700 gas lanterns, are installed. In 1861 the first tram company is formed, mostly using horse or mules to draw them, and fully established over the next few years.
Taking advantage of the total lack of defenses a Spanish fleet commanded by Casto Méndez Núñez bombarded the city during the Spanish-South American war in 1866. Chilean merchant ships are sunk, except for those vessels whose captains hoisted foreign flags.
A merger of the National Steamship Company and Chilean Steamship Company, the South American Steamship Company was created as a national response to the increasing dominance of the Pacific Steam Navigation Company in 1872. In 1880 the Chilean Telephone Company is formed by Americans Joseph Husbands, Peter MacKellar, James Martin, and the US consul Lucius Foot, the first official telephone company in the country. Three years later on the first of December, Concepción funicular opens, the first of many hydraulic systems.
After the country's independence and its consequent openness to international trade, Valparaíso becomes an important port of call on trade routes through the Eastern Pacific. Many immigrants settled there, mostly from Europe and North America, who helped include Valparaíso and Chile in the industrial revolution sweeping other parts of the world. This created a different city with civil, financial, commercial and industrial institutions, many of which still exist today.
All this resulted in a population increases. The city reached more than 160,000 inhabitants in the late nineteenth century, making it necessary to use the steep hills for more houses, mansions and even cemeteries. The lack of available land caused the city authorities and developers to reclaim low lying tidal marshland (polder) to build administrative, commercial and industrial infrastructure.
The twentieth century began with the first big protest of dockworkers, Chile on April 15, 1903, due to complaints by Dockers about their excessive working hours and demands for higher wages, requests that were ignored by employers, creating a tense situation that led to serious violence on May 12. There were protests and the burning of the CSAV offices and several people were shot and killed. All this prompted intervention by the state. This protest was important for the future of Trade Unionism in the country.
The same year, electric trams appeared.
On August 16, 1906 earthquake occurred on Valparaíso, which caused severe damage throughout the city, which was at that time the heart of the Chilean economy.
Damage was valued at hundreds of millions of pesos of the time, and human victims were counted at 3,000 dead and over 20,000 injured. After removing the debris, reconstruction work began. These included the widening of streets, culverting and covering streams, (Jaime and Delicias - creating the current avenues Francia and Argentina respectively). The main street of the city (Pedro Montt) was laid and Plaza O'Higgins was created a hill was removed to allow the passage of Colon Street. The damaged Edwards mansion was demolished and in its place the present Cathedral of Valparaíso was built and, among many other works, this gave shape to the current Almendral Valparaíso area.
In 1910 the port expansion work of the city, which ended in 1930, began. A long breakwater was built, along with piers and docking terminals.
The opening of the Panama Canal in 1914 caused a severe reduction of port activity as Valparaíso lost its vital role as the major stopping point for shipping going from the North Atlantic to the North Pacific via the Magellan channel.
Currently Chile's legislature along with other institutions of national importance like the National Customs Service, the National Fish and Aquaculture Ministry, the Ministry of Culture and the Barracks General of the Chilean Navy are sited in the city. In addition to the capital of the Valparaíso Region hosts the Regional Administration and government.
In February 2013, about 105 homes were destroyed in Valparaíso, affecting 1,200 people. On April 13, 2014 a huge brush fire burned out of control, destroying 2,800 homes and killing 16 people, forcing President Michelle Bachelet to declare it a disaster zone.