funicular /few-nik-yoo-ler/ adj. (of a railway, esp. on a mountainside) operating by cable with ascending and descending cars counterbalanced – Oxford Compact English Dictionary
The Chilean Pacific seaport of Valparaiso, The City of Steps, has been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2003. An important part of the heritage district is the collection of funiculars (or ascensors, as the locals call them) that connect the historic Upper and Lower Towns. To this day, this unusual means of transport provides a welcome alternative to those tired of trudging up and down the city’s famous steps all day long!
Between 1883 and 1916, around 30 funiculars (bizarrely, sources seem unsure of the exact number) were constructed to connect the businesses of the Lower Town with the residential districts on the hills above. Many of these still survive and are officially listed as National Monuments, although not all of them are currently in service.
Concepción (The Conception)
Constructed in 1883, Concepción is the oldest funicular in Valparaiso. It was built to connect the Lower Town with the British and German communities living on Cerro Concepción (Hill of the Conception). Climbing over 225 feet at an angle of 45º, Concepción remains one of the city’s most popular ascensors.
Reina Victoria (Queen Victoria)
The Reina Victoria funicular also climbs Cerro Concepción, at a slightly alarming gradient of 57º!
El Peral (Pear Tree)
Walking visits of Cerro Concepción often take in the neighbouring Cerro Alegre (Happy Hill). This hill is linked directly to the Lower Town via just one funicular, El Peral.
The Artillería funicular is one of the most photographed in the city. At the northern end of the UNESCO district, it was built to connect the Lower Town with the old Naval College (now the Naval and Maritime Museum) on Cerro Artillería. Today its carriages continue to transport more than 30 passengers at a time to the top of Artillería, from where they are rewarded with fantastic views of the city and the bay.
Cordillera (Mountain Range)
Ascensor Cordillera climbs Cerro Cordillera between El Peral and Artillería. Those feeling energetic can match its climb of 200 feet at a gradient of 70º by using the flight of steps that runs beside the tracks.
Villaseca (Dry Town)
Sadly, not all of Valparaiso’s funiculars are still working (and some have disappeared entirely). From the back of Cerro Artillería you get a great view of the Villaseca funicular, which climbs the adjacent Cerro Playa Ancha (Wide Beach Hill). Ascensor Villaseca is currently closed due to landslides making the track unsafe. Responsibility for the funicular was transferred to the Chilean government in 2012, so hopefully it won’t be too long before it is running again.
At 580 feet, the Monjas funicular is the longest in Valparaiso, climbing the hill of the same name, Cerro Monjas. Like Villaseca, it’s closed at the moment, but has been transferred to government control in a bid to get it operating once more.
Espiritu Santo (Holy Spirit)
Despite protests from locals, the Espiritu Santo stood closed for several years. Thankfully, it’s been restored and recently reopened, and today again carries passengers between the Lower Town and Cerro Bellavista (Hill of the Beautiful View).
Larraín (named after Juan Larraín)
Along the hills that flank the eastern end of Valparaiso’s Lower Town is a row of four ascensors. Two are visible in the photo below.
The Larraín funicular is another that is currently closed (this time for economic reasons), awaiting renovation.
The direct translation of ‘ascensor’ is ‘elevator’, even though most of the ‘ascensors’ in Valparaiso are actually inclined funiculars. The Ascensor Polanco is the exception, since it is an elevator in the true sense of the word. In fact, according to what I’ve read, it’s one of only three totally vertical urban elevators in the entire World.
The Barón funicular is the northernmost of the four ascensors at the east side of Valparaiso old town, and was the first in the city to be powered by electricity. As with Artillería on the far side of the UNESCO section of Valparaiso, the promenade beside the upper station provides stunning views across the bay and city.
This post was inspired by the photo theme of Tracks from Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge. Despite the fact that on the surface this post is all about a means of transport that saves your legs, with all the walking we did between the funiculars, I also feel comfortable submitting it to Jo’s Monday Walk!
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