Valparaiso: What do you get if you set hundreds of graffiti artists loose on a picturesque port town? A quirky, highly enjoyable surprise of colourful murals, witty characters and thought-provoking scenarios.
Masonry and construction materials that are at best ignorable are here elevated to the extraordinary. Drains become eye-catching; roofs a giant canvas. The cute is here and the beautiful. Political cartoons supporting everything from vegetarianism to female emancipation get metreage to turn tired ideas into the novel.
My favourites, though, are the messageless. The ones that provoke a smile or an ‘aha’. There are so many different styles, different subjects here and yet the quality is fantastic.
This town, home once of Pablo Neruda, is poor – it has the highest unemployment in Chile, yet it has a richness of architecture and culture that I haven’t seen elsewhere in the country.
Not everyone appreciates the murals, judging by the tagging of graffiti names over and obscuring some pieces. But the general worn-down, shabbiness rather suits the town – it wears its poverty well, if that’s not a grotesque statement.
In its hey day, Valparaiso, 120 km west of Santiago, was an important port town and regular stopover for foreign merchants. The British influence is clear in place names, the Anglican church and a rather ridiculous mini Marble Arch in the town centre.
Built on a cluster of rocky hills following a curving bay, Valparaiso’s planners came up with a very sensible solution to the vertical climbs facing its residents: elevators.
Steep staircases are there but, wonderfully, can be avoided in favour of 30 ‘ascensors’ that carry people up to higher ground in a very civilised way. (Blackheath, Crystal Palace, come on…)
Then the Panama Canal was built, and Valpo suffered a similar decline to other port cities in southern Chile.
Take a look at Nick’s pictures of the murals.