The city of Valparaiso in Chile, a major seaport in the west coast of South America, is characterized by its unique geography that includes a narrow area near the coast and at least 42 hills spread in a natural amphitheater surrounding the city.
Valparaiso, a city of nearly 280,000 inhabitants, is recognized as the cultural capital of Chile. With 475 years of history and traditions, the city has 5 universities, the first public library in the country, and many museums among which is "La Sebastiana”, home of the late poet Pablo Neruda, Nobel Prize in Literature (1971). In 2003 UNESCO included the historic center of the city in the List of Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Among the most widespread cultural expressions of the city is the painting of murals. During the 60s and early 70s, groups of leftist revolutionary youth calling themselves the "Ramona Parra Brigades" painted beautiful murals in the city expressing in bright colours their defence of the workers, farmers, miners and indigenous groups, and to support the candidate and later president of Chile Salvador Allende.
Mural in tunnel, painted by "Brigadas Ramona Parra". Most of these murals with political messages have been lost or erased.
Since then, the creation of murals has become one of the most important artistic activities in the city and the "Museo a Cielo Abierto" "Open Air Museum" of Cerro Bellavista (Fairview Hill) is one of its best known expressions at the national and international level.
Open-Air Museum, Valparaiso - Mural by Ramón Vergara (1923-).
The outdoor museum was inaugurated in 1994 as a result of a project within the Mural Painting Workshop of painter Francisco Méndez, a professor at the Catholic University of Valparaiso. The museum comprises a collection of 20 murals painted on retaining walls and the front or side walls of the houses. The murals, close to one another, decorate and fill with color several blocks of hills and stairs and represent a visual treat for residents of the area and a notable attraction to the many tourists who visit the typical places of the city.
The drawings and sketches were commissioned to renowned Chilean painters among which are Nemesio Antunez, Roberto Matta, Mario Toral and Ricardo Yrarrazabal. The paintings were executed by the students of the University and were then completed and signed by the painters. Each mural has a plate with date and information on the artist, but none has a name or title.
Open-Air Museum, Valparaiso - Frontal view of five steps on stairway by the Bellavista Hostel.
The interest on mural painting has proved contagious. Several businesses in the neighbourhood have also decorated their walls with colourful murals among which particularly noteworthy are the walls and stairs of the Bellavista Hostel which adopted mostly marine themes.