Valparaíso is one of the most historically significant cities in Chile, and its labyrinthine streets and rolling hills some of the best preserved in the country.
It’s a fact that was recognized in 2003 by UNESCO, when the United Nations body declared the city a World Heritage Site.
But in the period between Valparaiso’s golden era – as one of the most important ports in the New World – to its rediscovery as a cultural mecca of South America, parts of the city fell into disrepair.
Thankfully, over the last decade, things have been changing in the port city. Porteños, as locals Valparaíso natives are known, are fiercely proud of their city, and many have taken the challenge of restoring their neighborhoods upon themselves.
On the weekends, volunteer students don overalls and form teams to restore dilapidated houses, apply fresh paint to the gaudily colored streets and clean up the plazas that perch atop the city’s many hills that overlook the Pacific Ocean.
One of the most emblematic and pioneering efforts is the Mirador de Camogli. Once a trash-strewn gully, the mirador, or lookout, now stands as both tribute to the vivacious spirit of Valparaíso and testament to its long-standing history and the immigrant groups that make the port one of the most cosmopolitan places in the Chile.
“When I started, there was nothing here – nothing but stones and dust and garbage,” Pedro Palomino Sierra told the Guardian.
Now, thanks to years of strenuous effort, the mirador is full of olive and pine trees, standing as an oasis among the cobblestones of the port.
“I wanted to do something to mark the connection between Valpo [as the city is known colloquially] and Camogli, in Italy,” said Sierra.
The work was inspired by more than just a fondness for pesto – the area of the city was settled in the late 19th century by immigrants from the Ligurian town of Camogli.
Descendants of those immigrants, among them Palomino Sierra, inhabit the area to this day and many still speak Italian as a second tongue.
Aside from the vegetation, the mirador also offers a sweeping view of Valparaíso, the Pacific Ocean, neighboring Viña del Mar and even the wine-growing Central Valley.
You can also see a mosaic commemorating the immigrants’ journey from Italy to Valparaíso, and a bust of beloved Chilean poet, Gabriela Mistral.
“I also wanted to make a homage to Gabriela Mistral. She was a much better poet than Neruda,” Palomino Sierra said, comparing Chile’s two Nobel Prize winning poets.
And while we here at ThisisChile can’t vouch for Palomino Sierra’s taste in literature, we can for his handiwork – to check out the Mirador de Camogli, head to 6200 Avenida Alemania.