Valparaíso rises abruptly from a narrow strip of coast to cover over 45 steep hills, each a jumble of winding streets lined with colourful houses, post-Colonial edifices, and 19th century museums. I wasn’t going to leave Chile before I had seen this colourful city. Unfortunately this time of the year the weather doesn’t always play along and the day was quite overcast and hazy so the bright colours of the buildings were dulled a bit. This did not take away from the beauty of these oddly built houses that lined the steep hills of Valparaiso.
Valparaíso is a city, port, and commune of Chile, founded in 1543. Nicknamed “The Jewel of the Pacific”, Valparaíso was declared a world heritage site based upon its improvised urban design and unique architecture. Built upon dozens of steep hillsides overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Valparaíso boasts a labyrinth of streets and cobblestone alleyways, embodying a rich architectural and cultural legacy.
My first stop in Valparaiso was at La Sebastiana, Pablo Neruda’s House. The contemporary history of Valparaíso is closely related to the well-known Chilean poet Pablo Neruda and vice versa. It was in this city overlooking the Pacific Ocean that, fleeing the noise of Santiago, the writer found a house on Mount Florida with an endless sea-view where he could “live and write in peace”.
He called it “La Sebastiana” in honor to its builder, Sebastián Collado, a Spaniard who, after searching for a place from where he could have an entire view of Valparaíso, began to build this house here but he soon passed away. Upon moving in Neruda named it La Sebastiana stating that “even if don Sebastián did not write verse, he was a poet of construction”.
On September 18, 1961 Neruda inaugurated the house and invited his friends to celebrate. Ever since then he stayed there for periods, especially during New Years Eve. While living there, he wrote the important works that made him famous and led to him winning the Nobel Prize of Literature in 1971.
I got to glimpse the past inside La Sebastiana. In each of its five stories, with the help of audio guide I discovered the lifestyle and the most glorious and absurd moments of its owner.
Each room was thought out and decorated with a special intention. The site is crowded with dreams and hope. The many ornaments that Pablo collected are part of the great detail that makes this place unique, just like Neruda.
From the fourth floor of what used to be Neruda’s room I got an impressive panoramic view of Valparaíso and it harbour.
I continued my exploration of Valparaiso by walking through the winding streets if Cerro Alegra hill. Its name comes from the beautiful gardens adorning the homes in the area, but it was the colourfully painted houses that covered this hill that held my attention. The houses are all quite unique, each a different colour or design to try and adapt to the steep hills of Valparaiso.
The streets don’t follow ant set pattern and it’s quite easy to get lost as some streets heading up a hill will suddenly loop and take you down hill again.
In 1996, the World Monuments Fund declared Valparaíso’s unusual system of funicular elevators (highly-inclined cable cars) one of the world’s 100 most endangered historical treasures.
A funicular, also known as a cliff railway, is a cable railway in which a cable attached to a pair of tram-like vehicles on rails moves them up and down a steep slope; the ascending and descending vehicles counterbalance each other. I was quite excited at the prospect of actually getting to go on one these 100 year old funiculars. It was a great highlight to end this colourful day on.