Iquique's Historic District: Where the Saltpeter Era Lives On
As you walk down these streets, you almost expect to see women strolling by with taffeta dresses and parasols on the arm of gentlemen with handlebar moustaches and pocket watches. While such figures are long gone, the Historic District of Iquique is full of streets and houses—several of them national monuments– that have been renovated to showcase the period of wealth that was ushered in by the saltpeter boom of the 19th and early 20th centuries.
The building style used in Iquique was new to Chile and made use of wood imported from Canada and the United States on ships returning from saltpeter deliveries. The two-story houses and mansions were built mainly in the Georgian style and featured porches, terraces, balconies, columns and verandahs. The same style was used in other saltpeter mining towns in northern Chile such as Pica
, Matilla, Tiliviche, Huara
and Pozo Almonte
Begin your tour at the "Aduana" or Customs House on Avenida Arturo Prat. Built in 1871, it now houses the Naval Museum. Across the way you'll find the Passenger Pier, dating from 1901, where you can hire a boat to take you to the spot where the corvette Esmeralda sunk in the naval battle of Iquique on May 21, 1879 during the War of the Pacific.
Walking southward along Aníbal Pinto you will see several buildings from the same period. At Plaza Arturo Prat
, the main square and the center of the old downtown area, you can admire the clock tower, which was imported from England around 1878 and has become the city's main landmark. The Teatro Municipal, which was inaugurated in 1890, stands across from it, as does the headquarters of the Sociedad Protectora de Empleados de Tarapacá (Tarapaca Worker's Protection Society), built around 1910.
Beside the theatre on Calle Baquedano you'll find the Palacio Astoreca
, which evokes the splendor of the saltpeter era and has been declared a national monument. It now houses a museum that is open to the public as well as a university-operated cultural center. The neighborhood is also home to the Club Croata and the Casino Español, the latter built in the Moorish style, as well as less-assuming buildings with façades of Oregon pine that are now museums, art galleries, cafés and restaurants. Finally, an antique "carro de sangre" (horse-drawn trolley) helps set the stage for your tour of Iquique's glorious past.