Valparaiso Connections VII

Fertile Land and Saltpeter, spoils of war

Plaza Victoria

This is an answer for those of who responded to my last post Valparaiso Connections VI with “what does that desert in Peru have to do with Valparaiso?”  It starts with the Plaza Victoria at the end of Pedro Montt Avenue.  Victoria, as in victory not Queen Victoria.   At the beginning of the 19thcentury this was a beach, the site of several ship wrecks.  It was set aside as a gathering place by the Mayor, named Plaza Nueva (New Plaza), for a bullring until bullfights a law banned bullfighting on September 1823. The plaza became a place of public executions and, after Chile’s victory in the Battle of Yungay, a place of celebration, formally renamed for the victory.

The Central Valley of Chile is an exception to the topology north through Lima where agriculture and population centers follow river valleys watered by the Andes and surrounded by waterless wastes.  Yungay, is among one of those watered desert valleys.  Located 120 miles north of Lima, Peru at about 8,000 feet just below a summit of the Western Andes, remnants of cultures from 10,000 B.C. are proof of agriculture and human settlement. It was near Yungay, on January 20, 1839 (summer in the southern hemisphere) a force of Chilean and Peruvian dissidents called the United Restorative Army defeated a Peru-Bolivian Confederation Army to end the War of Confederation. The resulting split into different countries of Peru and Bolivia weakened a threat to Chile and Argentina, aimed in large part toward the broad and fertile Central Valley of Chile. The desperation in view in my post Valparaiso Connections VI was in large measure a motivation war, this motivation is still powerful today.

 The subsequent prosperity allowed reclamation of the land of Plaza Victoria from the sea.  For example, in my post Valparaiso Connections V we learned how French immigrants arrived and developed Central Valley wineries in the 19th century.   Around the time of the victory Chacobuco Street was built adjacent to the plaza on reclaimed land, the Plaza Victoria was pulled from the sea.  

The concrete Lions and bronze statue captured in the above gallery, were elements of a round of enhancements to Plaza Victoria begun 1870.

Monument to the Heroes of Iquique

Here we see from the Regatta bridge a monument to the Heroes of Iquique.   The Battle of Iquique, May 21, 1879, is remembered annually as Naval Glories Day (Dia de las Glorias Navales) .

  Click this Link for the Fine Art Photography Gallery.

This monument commemorates the destruction of the Chilean warship Esmeralda.  At the monument peak is Arturo Prat Chacón, captain of the Esmeralda who perished with his wooden ship.  He and the crew were blockading the then Peruvian port of Iquique along with another ship, the Covadonga.

May 1879 was in the initial phase of the War of the Pacific, fought over rich mineral deposits of the Atacama desert.  Today, the Chilean flag is over these barren wastes, seen here flying over a roadside memorial to an automobile accident victim.  The desert is the backdrop, there are no animals or plants here, only red dirt.  NASA uses the Atacama in simulations of the Martian environment. 

There are deposits of the mineral saltpeter, mined by large operations.  Here is the entrance of a World Heritate site we visited while docked at Iquique. 

The mining operation was literally scraping the deposits lying on the ground and processing it into, among other products, nitrogen
fertilizer.  At that time the operation was hugely lucrative, employing thousands in very difficult conditions.  That is a different story. 

Captain Prat faced two armored Peruvian warships, one the iron clad Huáscar.  Over the course of four hours the Esmeralda was overpowered and sunk.  The Huascar and the 22,500 mountain peak at Yungay, Huascarán, are named for an Inca chief.  

The monument honors the bravery of Captain Prat and his crew, all of whom are named on plaques.

After the Huáscar rammed Esmeralda a third time to sink it, the Huáscar captain, Miguel Grau Seminario, rescued Chilean survivors in danger of drowning.  In the meantime, the armored Peruvian warship was lured into the shallows and destroyed.  Although the blockage on Iquique was lifted Peru lost one of its most powerful ships at the cost to Chile of an older wooden ship.

The defeat and examples of the Esmerelda crew and captain brought a wave of recruits to the Chilean forces.  Chile was the victor of the War of the Pacific, vast tracks of the Atacama desert were taken from Bolivia, including the Saltpeter mines, shutting that country off from the Pacific Ocean.  There is a connection between these memories and the Training Ship anchored in the harbor, the sixth ship to carry the name, Esmeralda (BE-43). 

See my posting Valparaiso Connections V for the more recent history of the Esmeralda.

Copyright 2022 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Arturo Prat Plaza

Another Hero

Shortly after the Maritime Government plaza is a crossroads with this interesting sign. The first line references two attractions. “ZOFRI” is the local abbreviation for the designation of Iquique as a port with tax advantages. The destination of this sign is a shopping mall. “Esmeralda” is the living museum I photographed from the tender. Our route to the Atacama desert took us through “Centro” with views of “Sur-Cavancha” on our ascension of the escarpment.

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Interesting destinations.

As we approach the central square, this local wonder is on the corner. Any wood must be acquired over long distances as little (close to nothing) grows locally.

A display of great wealth — a wood veranda.

Declared a National Historic Landmark on July 13, 1987 this Clock Tower, together with the buildings surrounding it in the plaza (the Municipal Theater of Iquique, the building of the Workers Welfare Society of Tarapacá, the Casino Español and the Club Croata) is one of the most representative urban expressions of the “Saltpeter Period”, a time which saw much foreign investment. Built 1878 when Iquique was Peru territory, the partition walls of Oregon pine wood, a clock mechanism from England. Saltpeter, a nitrogen rich deposit on the Atacama desert surface, brought thousands of poor workers to exploit the natural resource and to, in turn, be exploited.

I decided against straightening the tower, too much was lost in the process.

A pair of linear fountains run parallel to the road, framing the clock tower or theater depending on the point of view.

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Wikipedia – “Zona Franca of Iquique” and “Clock Tower (Iquique).”

Copyright 2020 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Maritime Government

Another Hero

At the foot of the port island a Maritime Government building for the Iquique region. This and the other photographs of Iquique city were taken from the tour bus using a Canon dslr and the Canon EF 70 – 300 variable “zoom” lens.

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“Red, White and Blue” Note the brass ship’s bell on the left entrance column.

Shaped as it is, Chile needs an agency devoted to the coast. Littoral, the geographic term applied to this area of control. By definition of Chile it’s littoral begins “80 meters inland from the line of beach” to 200 miles from the point of low tide, a broad definition that works without too much conflict as, to the west, is the enormous Pacific Ocean. As with all countries there are interesting disagreements over maritime borders and rights at the borders. Chile and Argentina’s complex border in the far south among the islands and channels of Tierra del Fuego are legend.

“Flag of Chile” with two men on the steps clutching smart phones. Port security is apparent in the identification cards on lanyards.

Iquique is one of thirteen (13) Maritime Governorates. From north to south we can mention those of Arica, Iquique, Antofagasta, Coquimbo, Valparaíso, San Antonio, Talcahuano, Valdivia, Puerto Montt, Castro, Aysén, Punta Arenas and Navarino with the Chilean Antarctic Territory. Our cruise touches up, or passes through, all of them.


Larger than life busts of two Chilean heroes flank the entrance. We learned about Prat in an earlier post. While Captain Prat lost his life during the Battle of Iquique, Carlos Arnaldo Condell De La Haza, Captain of the schooner Virgen de Covadonga, escaped a larger and heavier gunned Peruvian ship, the armored frigate Independencia, sailing south.

Captain Condell, through tactics and seamanship, pinned the Independenia on a reef. The Covadonga blasted away until driven off by the monitor Huáscar. Condell went on to other naval successes and succumbed to illness at the young age of fourth four (44) years.

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Wikipedia – “Carlos Arnaldo Condell De La Haza”

Click me for a spanish language pdf file on Chilean maritime governance.

Copyright 2020 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Iquique first steps

On Dry Land

Our tour tickets and bus designation ( “number 2” ) firmly in hand, Pam and I walked the gangplank from the tender (see yesterday’s post), into the Iquique International Cruise terminal, then out to the sunshine to find out bus, following the crowd.

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Downtown High rises soar above downtown

Touring this way can feel link a rodent maze, it was not our feeling at all. The groups maxed at 15, the guides friendly and knowledgeable, the tour buses luxurious. We enjoyed ourselves immensely. Here we are, later that day, dressed for adventure.

Mike and Pam Wills on tour at the Pintados Geoglyphs, Tarapacá, Chile within the Atacama desert.

Our itinerary for the day is to navigate through the city, across the desert to visit a World Heritage Site, Humberstone, and ancient geoglyph sites, touching on local ecology.

Another view of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception among the downtown high-rises of Iquique.

Here is our tour, time to hop on the bus, get going.

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Here is a slide show of our day so far.

Copyright 2020 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Iquique Tender Views

From Ship to Shore

Ninety minutes after docking our assigned tender pulled away from the Regatta for a twenty minute trip to Iquique. A tender is a boat with an enclosed seating area designed to transport about twenty persons in quiet waters from an anchorage to port. I recall the morning announcement from the ship Captain advising use the winds were high (or the waves), and he negotiated a mooring with the port, instead of the planned docking, in order to save our visit to Iquique.

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The approximate anchorage of the Regatta marked with a pushpin. The tender transported use from the Regatta to the base of the island port.

Above is a screen capture from Google Earth, the entire Iquique harbor is pictured from Punta Negra (see photo from yesterday) to the base of the island port connected to the mainland with a road. The tender port is at this base, on the shore side. If you wish, download the following PDF document with a clearer image. You will need a PDF viewer.

Shipping containers being unloaded from the container ship San Christobal.

Here are some of the sights visible from the tender. I recall sitting next to the large rear window. Above is the large red container ship. From earlier posts, the San Christobal is docked at the outer berth. The ship is being unloaded, you can see a yellow shipping container on the crane.

Today, aneconomic reason for Iquque’s prosperity is the status as a duty free zone the government dubbed “ZOFRI.” Another is tourists flocking to this “Miami of South America” for duty free shopping (there is a mall), the shore lined with tall hotels and condominiums. Adventure-seekers love the surfing and hang gliding from the escarpment.

Notice the fishing nets in the stern with yellow floats

This is the scene close to the tender port, past mooring for smaller fishing and other boats.

Replica of the Chilean navy ship Esmeralda sunk during the Battle of Iquique. It is a nautical “living museum.” From the website: “The museum script of the Museum ‘Emerald Corvette’ is represented by thirteen museum scenes that inspire the guided tour, where it was recreated what life was like on board on May 20, 1879, the day before the historic Pacific War day.” The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception is to the right of the ship stern. Here is a previous post with more about the Esmeralda in historical context.

After disembarkation, I looked back for this shot of our tender pilot.

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Copyright 2020 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Iquique by Sea III

Thoughts on Approach to Iquique Harbor

Iquique was a Peruvian city under Chilean Naval blockade May 1879 during the War of the Pacific for control of valuable nitrate deposits in the Atacama desert. It was also called the “Saltpeter War.” Photographs from Valparaiso are featured here, starting with an overview of Plaza Sotomayor from the bridge of the ship Regatta docked in the harbor. Centered in the square is a memorial to the heroes of Iquique.

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View of the Monument to the Heroes of Iquique from the bridge of the Regatta.

On the morning of May 21, 1879, two older wooden Chilean ships were at station blockading the Iquique harbor, the corvette Esmeralda, Captained by Arturo Prat Chacón and the schooner Covadonga.

The Heroes’ Names are listed in large letters

Out of the thick morning fog two Peruvian ironclad ships emerged.

Each corner features a larger than life statue representing the heroes

Outgunned by the ironclads the Covadonga withdrew. Captain Prat stood his ground and the Esmeralda was destroyed with great loss of life.

One figure is Captain Prat

Peru won that battle and opened the port. News of the heroism of Captain Prat and crew aroused the Chilean population. The outcome of the War of the Pacific was a huge gain of territory for Chile, including the nitrate mines of the Atacama desert.

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Copyright 2020 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved