Valparaíso, with its amphitheater-like setting and brightly colored houses, is embedded in the imagination of people around the world.
The historic quarter of Valparaíso, which was declared a World Heritage Site in 2003, comprises five interconnected neighborhoods:
Its unique architecture reflects the traditions and life of the golden age of Valparaíso in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when it was the most important merchant port on the Pacific coast of South America.
Until the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914, Valparaíso was a key port of call on the route between the Atlantic and Pacific through the Strait of Magellan. Valparaíso’s development was heavily marked by its location and topography: the bay, the city’s narrow flat part, which was mostly reclaimed from the sea, and the steep hills, with their deep ravines, to which its multi-colored houses cling. Into these hills were carved the alleyways and stairways that are one of the city’s distinguishing features. They form a sharp contrast to the geometrical layout and more monumental architecture of the flat part of the city.
In line with its role as a port, Valparaíso was inhabited and influenced by people from around the world, including its British and German settlers. The result was an urban fabric and cultural identity of a diversity and richness that set it apart from other Latin American cities.
Perched on one of the hills (outside the historic quarter) is La Sebastiana, one of the homes of Nobel poet Pablo Neruda, which is now a museum. In it, he positioned his bed precisely so as to have the best view of the bay spreading out below. Since 1990, Valparaíso has also been the seat of Congress.