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Museum of the Immigrants - Valparaíso

During the presentation of his book Meteor, at the launch held last year by the Society, David Woods mentioned the ambitious project in Valparaiso to turn the town’s historic German School into a new museum of immigration. When he visited in February the project was well underway, with an opening scheduled for late this year. Here is David’s brief update.

What has now developed into as much a cultural centre, as simply a museum, is a very impressive undertaking for which Valparaiso, with its still struggling tourist sector, has great need. It is an initiative of Eduardo Dib and his family, who are well-known throughout Chile and other countries in South America for a chain of carpet stores. Eduardo’s grandfather came to Chile as an immigrant from Lebanon in the 1920s. After a few years, he was joined by his wife and children. Like many families from the Middle East, they made a life for themselves and became successful. For Eduardo, the objective of “Destino Valparaíso” – the centre’s title - is to repay something to the society that gave his family a future.

And it is a big project: the centre will occupy over 5000 square metres of space on several levels, including the reconstruction of a tower which will give visitors a 360-degree panoramic view of the entire port city. The restauration of the school, which was inaugurated in 1857 on Cerro Concepción, is well underway and steadily revealing the considerable grandeur of the building from under layers of decoration, piled one on another for the benefit of generations of students. The school theatre, in particular, has been restored to very high standards; it is a spectacular room which will soon resound once more to classical and folkloric concerts and drama.

A team of museologists has been hard at work to ensure the historic installations are not drearily static. This will be an immersive, sensorial experience for visitors – including a dramatic reconstruction of what it was like to arrive in Valparaiso Bay – after a voyage of perhaps 3 months from Europe – and set eyes for the first time on the town and its hills.

A variety of national cultures, reflecting centuries of immigration, will find their place in the centre. Naturally, there will be an English pub and a German bierkeller, as well as tea and coffee shops, much as new arrivals would have discovered them in the 1800s. There will be several restaurants

of typical gourmet, and not-so-gourmet standards. Other attractions will include the school’s original wooden bowling alley.

All in all, Destino Valparaíso looks like a fitting addition to this historic quarter, taking its place next door to both the Anglican cathedral of St Paul’s and the Lutheran church. Visitors will have yet more opportunity to appreciate a remarkable and, for Chile, foundational era of immigration.


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