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Viña del Mar / Valparaíso, Chile

Jaime Sánchez

Universidad de Chile, CHILE

Founded as a seaside resort for the upper class, Viña del Mar emerged from the division of the “La Viña del Mar” hacienda of Dolores Perez. Her daughter and sole heiress, Mercedes Alvarez, married the businessman and politician José Francisco Vergara, who created a plan that would give birth to this coastal city. Shortly after the plan was passed in 1874, the Municipality of Viña del Mar was created.

Currently, Viña del Mar is recognized as the Tourism Capital of Chile, and as a “Garden City” due to the fact that it is surrounded by large swaths of green areas. The city has 13 beaches (approximately 3.5 kilometers), the most important of which is located in Reñaca, the city’s main beach, which has a life of its own and includes all the installations and infrastructure necessary to receive a large number of tourists. It has a very unique architecture, with beautiful residential neighborhoods complete with chalets surrounded by beautiful gardens and a number of modern high-rises, most of which are located on the beachfront. In walking through its streets, and as a testimony to the golden age of Viña del Mar, one can find palaces and antique buildings that date back to the beginning of the 20th century.

Neighboring the Garden City is Valparaíso, one of the oldest cities in Chile. Its origins date back to 1536, and in its position as the main port of the kingdom, it played a determining role in the process of national emancipation. It is the headquarters of the nation’s Legislative Branch, and the declared capital of the country’s cultural institutionality, housing the regional government as well as the base of the Chilean Navy.

The urban configuration of Valparaíso is determined by its local topography, which is dominated by 44 hills that form a natural amphitheatre with a view of the ocean that merges with the sky. The streets at the foot of the hills, the thin alleyways, the stairs, lookouts, the houses hanging out over the abyss and that seem to be within arms’ reach of the passengers riding the age-old elevators, the rocky sea-swept crevices, are all traits of a city that admires itself from the hill tops.

Images of Viña del Mar

Getting to Know the City

In beginning a walk down San Martin Boulevard, one can find the Viña del Mar Casino, which was inaugurated on December 31st of 1930. Today the Municipal Casino is a symbol of the garden city, and is considered to be one of the most complete and modern casinos in the world, with cabaret shows in which several top artists have performed. The main aesthetic attraction, in addition to its refined architecture, is that it possesses a privileged ocean-side view. In continuing down San Martín Avenue, one can find the most famous restaurants and pubs in the city. During the day, an excellent panorama is to dine in one of the many fine restaurants in the area, accompanied by a delicious Chilean wine. When the night falls, San Martín Avenue becomes a bustling center of activity and bohemia.

Another important area of the city is Valparaíso Street, known as “The Heart of Viña”. This is an open air shopping market, with restaurants, hotels and traditional spots of the Garden City. It is the main street, and a common meeting point at which the art, culture and commerce of this young city are combined. It is also the civic and financial neighborhood of Viña del Mar. At any of the commercial galleries on Valparaíso Street, one can find bookshops, clothing and sports stores, and fine jewelry. On Valparaíso Street it is normal to see street performances by musicians and artists, cartoonists and portrait artists, which makes for a rather nice family walk.

At the end of Valparaíso Street is the Plaza Vergara, where the famous Victorian Carriages can be found. For more than 120 years, the people of Viña del Mar and tourists have taken rides in these carriages, and this has become a traditional ride through the city. These elegant horse-drawn carriages date back to the years in which Viña was founded. In addition to the Plaza Vergara, there are three points in the city at which one can walk through the traditional areas of Viña del Mar, and feel as if in Victorian England.

In order to get to know the coastal area of the city, it is an excellent idea to walk down San Martín Avenue towards Las Salinas, to sit on any of the beautiful beaches in this area, sun tanning or enjoying the sunset and the waves. In the year 2000 the open air Naval Canon Museum was inaugurated, where some of the retired pieces of Chilean Navy artillery are exhibited. Some of these canons were used on ships that fought in the War of the Pacific and the Second World War.

Images of Viña del Mar

History through Buildings

The Quinta Vergara is one of the most beautiful parks in the region. In this park one can find the Vergara Palace, which was built by Madame Blanca Vergara de Errázuriz. Work on the palace, which is predominantly Venetian in style, began in 1906 and it was finished in 1910 under the watchful eye of the architect Ettore Petri. Today the Palace is the home of the Museum of Fine Arts. Also within the confines of the palace there is an amphitheatre, which has been renovated and which receives thousands of visitors every February for the International Music Festival of Viña del Mar, the most prestigious music award ceremony in Latin America.

The Wulff Castle, originally owned by Gustavo Wulff, a German merchant who arrived to Chile in 1881, was built in 1906 in the German-French style, and is based in stone. Afterwards in 1920, a large tower was added as well as an English-style wing. Upon the death of Mr. Wulff in 1946, the castle was passed on to Esperanza Artaza Matta. She had the Castle remodeled into its current form.

In 1906 Mr. Fernando Rioja, a wealthy Spanish banker from Valparaíso, purchased 40,000 square meters within Viña del Mar and had the architect Alredo Azancot build his residence. Known today as the Rioja Palace, it is noted for its salon-like grandeur, the large dining room and the Imperial Hall. As such, the musical lodge with its two interior balconies, the Boulles salon, the pink room, the blue room and the library are all exceptional aspects of this building. This exuberant display is representative of the era of the “Belle Époque” that the wealthy class of Viña del Mar experienced at around 1910. Mr. Fernando Rioja passed away in 1922. His family inhabited the mansion until the death of Madame Sara Ruiz, Rioja’s widow, in 1950. In consideration of the palace’s cultural and aesthetic value, it is currently a museum in which finely finished furnishings in the Baroque, Imperial, Rococo and Chesterfield styles, brought over from Spain and France, are exhibited within its lavish halls.

The Municipal Theatre, inaugurated on October 11th of 1930, makes up part of the cultural and artistic history of the garden city. Its beautiful and imposing structure is in the classical style, consistent with Corinthian Greco-Roman simplicity, but with an elegance that begins at the entryway, which includes staircases that highlight the facade. Numerous celebrities have performed on its stage, as well as a large number of ballet companies, operas and wide-ranging performances in the world of the performing arts.


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