Valparaiso is a city of many personalities. It has a long history as an important port city that supplied Santiago and became the home of the Chilean Navy. The buildings clustered around the flat area in front of the docks are grand and speak of the grander times of the golden era from the 1840’s until 1914 when the Panama Canal opened, allowing ships to sail to California quicker and without the risk of sailing around Cape Horn.
Then there are the cerro’s, or hills, that give Valparaiso it’s shape and personality. The rich merchants lived on the smaller hills overlooking the port and ocean while the people, the workers, lived high on the hills in the less accessible areas. The houses are built in what looks a haphazard manner, piled on top of one another and painted all different colours. This is where the street graffiti and art began, illegally at first, in the tiny, winding alleys and on the walls of the steep staircases that provided the main routes up and down the hills.
In the 1960’s, after there was a huge earthquake in the south of Chile, Pablo Neruda, a Nobel prize winner and politician invited artists from Mexico to come to Chile and paint. This was part of a plan to bring beauty back into the cities hit by the quake. Neruda lived in Valparaiso and it was here that street art really took hold and even though it was illegal, graffiti and murals began to show up overnight. Businesses and homeowners soon began to commission artists to paint murals on the walls of their buildings. Eventually Street art was made legal. The streets and alleys have now become a place for artists to express their views, often political, and are a huge tourist attraction.
As you walk around the streets it seems that every piece of wall is painted with some king of tag, word or mural. Some are stunning, others are very good, others not so good. There is colour on every surface on every building, everywhere you look.