Modern Valparaíso’s maritime orientation is palpable in the Barrio Puerto, where the main public buildings cluster around remodeled Plaza Sotomayor, now vehicle-free after construction of an underground parking garage; while it’s clearly an improvement over the previous parking lot, the plaza’s barrenness is still disconcerting.
At the plaza’s upper end, the former Intendencia Regional (1910), built to seat the provincial government, is now the Primera Zona Naval, the national naval headquarters that symbolizes the navy’s influence.
On the harbor side, the Monumento a los Héroes de Iquique is the crypt for Arturo Prat, Ignacio Serrano, and other fatalities of the Esmeralda’s ill-advised Iquique harbor assault on the Peruvian ironclad Huáscar during the War of the Pacific. After the bodies were saved from a common grave and then shifted to a parish church that burned down, the Chilean government sponsored a contest to build the monument in Valparaíso; French architect Diogene Ulysse Mayllard was responsible for the general design and French sculptor Denis Pierre Puech for the statuary (according to an unverified account, the judges rejected Rodin’s sculpture La Defensa, now at Viña del Mar’s Palacio Carrasco). The Chilean Virginio Arias, who supervised the work, sculpted the bas reliefs.
At the foot of the plaza, Muelle Prat is the passenger pier; there are harbor tours with the motor yacht Maite (tel. 099/3244352, US$3.50 pp). The pier is also home to a so-so crafts market, an irregularly staffed branch of the municipal tourist office, and a replica of the Carabela Santiaguillo, the vessel that first brought the Spaniards to Valparaíso (only 18 meters long and 5 meters wide, it seems almost miraculous that the original survived a winter voyage from Lima).
Facing each other across the plaza are the current Aduana Nacional (Customs House) and the former Estación Puerto, a gallery that was once the terminus for suburban commuter trains (note the colorful murals); the new station, integrated into a new shopping mall, is slightly to the southeast.
Marking the approximate border between the Barrio Puerto and El Almendral, the Reloj Turri clock tower, at the narrow end of a flatiron building at Prat and Carreño, is directly across from Ascensor Concepción. One long block east, dating from 1903, the neoclassical headquarters of El Mercurio de Valparaíso (Esmeralda and Ross) belongs to Chile’s most venerable newspaper (first published in 1827).
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Chile, 2nd edition