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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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.
Out of the thick morning fog two Peruvian ironclad ships emerged.
Outgunned by the ironclads the Covadonga withdrew. Captain Prat stood his ground and the Esmeralda was destroyed with great loss of life.
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.
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) .
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).