Day 20 |
Oct 31, 2008

Antogagasta, Chile

By JJ Apestegui, General Naturalist

Noon Position: 23° 39.0’ S, 070° 24.3’ W

Weather: Clear all day long with comfortable temperatures, a few scattered clouds.

Our arrival into Antofagasta was on time as expected, around 8 AM, for a departure of the morning tour at 9 AM. We visited the old Silver Foundry situated a few miles away from the city, known as the Huanchaca Ruins, which are the remnants of one of the biggest and oldest silver foundries in South America that closed its doors in 1912. It was declared a National Monument in 1974 and has had streams of visitors ever since.

The second part of our morning tour was to the area north of the city, along the seacoast, to a natural monument that features a large rock with a wave-created opening, called La Portada de Antofagasta ("The Doorway to Antofagasta").

Antofagasta is the largest city of the Norte Grande region, a product of the mining boom that hit the region in the 19th century. Profitable nitrate mines of the last century brought many foreign settlers to the city, and Antofagasta today possesses a markedly European feel in its architecture and ambiance. The Barrio Histórico is home to many historic Victorian buildings, and the clock tower of the Plaza Colon is an exact replica of Big Ben. Today, Antofagasta is the embarkation point for copper mined at La Escondida and Chuquicamata--the latter of which holds the distinction of being the largest open-pit mine in the world. With 20 km (12 miles) of beachfront and a mild, dry climate, Antofagasta has also developed as a year-round beach resort.

Antofagasta was founded on October 22, 1868 by Bolivian President Mariano Melgarejo to create a port that would provide an outlet for saltpeter (nitrate) exports and establish control over an area where Chileans had settled. It was part of the Litoral Province of Bolivia until February 14, 1879, when it was occupied by Chilean troops. This event marked the beginning of the War of the Pacific.

An important railway, Ferrocarril de Antofagasta a Bolivia, runs east to Bolivia, and used to haul minerals over the high Andes. The history of the railway dates back to 1872 with the grant of a concession by the government of Bolivia to Melbourne Clarke & Co, the territory around Antofagasta being part of Bolivia at this date. The railway was organized as the Antofagasta Nitrate & Railway Company. Construction started in 1873, with the first section opening late in that year, motive power provided by mules. Steam locomotives were introduced in 1876, and by 1879 the railway had extended about 150km into the interior. War broke out in 1879 between Chile on one side, and Peru and Bolivia on the other. One of the causes of the war was an attempt by the Bolivian government to levy back taxes on the railway.