The ascensors of Valparaíso

4 07 2010

This post hasn’t much to do with cycleways, nor Wellington, but those of you who’ve been reading this blog regularly would know I like any novel way of getting up a hill, and one of the finest ways of getting up a hill is by means of a gondola, or a cable car. (The finest way of getting down a hill is of course by bicycle). Over on Steven Dale’s Gondola Project I was a winner of a competition where I had to say what the Grateful Dead, Andrea Bocelli, Rodney Dangerfield and Alvin and the Chipmunks had in common. It’s worth clicking on this link to see Steven’s announcement of the winner (it was me) to see the late, great Pavarotti sing Funiculi Funicula with the Danish pop band Aqua and a thousand kids. The prize was 50 loonies (loonies as in Canadian Dollars, not NZ National Party members) and it was to be deposited into a Canadian bank account. Having not one of them I bribed Steven into converting the prize into some Canadian music CDs and posting them to me, by saying I’d write a blog post about the ascensors of Valparaíso. (They have cables so they rock his boat) You’ll notice I won it back in February. The CDs were out in April and I just received them, which means presumably Canada Post sent them via the Northwest Passage sea route and it has just thawed out.)

Valparaíso, for those who don’t know, is the port on the coast of central Chile about 100km west of Santiago. It’s home to the Chilean Armada (it’s Navy) and has a flat bit, the commercial district, with trolleybuses (like Wellington) and then it has some steep bits, with ascensors (or elevators, but are actually cable cars) going up to the largely residential neighbourhoods on the hill tops. Wellington has 1 cable car. Valparaíso at it’s peak had 22 or 23 (I’m not sure which). Nowadays there are about 16 still extant, and I had a day there and I went to see how many of them were still working. I rode all the ones that were still working. It was just 9 of them.

The first built was Ascensor Concepción which opened on December 1st 1883. Originally it was coal powered and the locals thought it was the work of El Diablo with it’s belching smoke. They overcame their fear and it is still working today (on electricity). The entrances look just like another doorway. Here’s the bottom entrance:

The upper entrance:

and between the bottom and the upper there are two parallel inclines and two cabins go up and down all day. They don’t cost much to ride, and they are usually cheaper to go down, than up.

I visited Valpo back in 2007. I started at one end of the city, and tried to ride the Villaseca Ascensor first. It was Cerrado por Reparaciones. In fact the time of the elevators seems to be coming to an end. If there are a set of steps nearby then all the young and fit people won’t pay money to ride the elevator, which means they become uneconomic, and all the old people curse the bloody stairs they have to climb whilst the old elevator next to it is all closed up.

I still think a few of them will hold on though. They are quick, they are cheap and they are convenient. To drive up the hill means circuitous routes. Buses don’t go up there. It is a world of pedestrians and elevators. Seeing how most elevators are over 100 years old, and are perhaps a bit rickety, it means they’ve been the perfect solution for a long while, but they just don’t instill much confidence that they’ll not collapse when you’re riding them.

On the inside the cabins are what I am going to describe as functional-chic. Here is inside the Ascensor Artillería:

here’s looking up from inside:

The Queen Victoria from the bottom:

The Queen Victoria from the top:

The Barón, which is also called “The Electric” as it was the first one electrified. There apparently was even a water powered one:

Ascensor Florida:

El Peral:

San Agustín:

Los Lecheros:

Los Lecheros’ ticket counter:

Espíritu Santo:

Larraín’s front door:



The Polanco is a little different. It is an elevator and a bridge:

And this one was defunct, and I can’t remember which one it was. Maybe it is the Ascensor Monjas:

But whatever happened to the Arrayan, Perdices, Toro, and Las Cañas ascensors?

I hope they all live on for another 100 years.

Like Valparaíso, Wellington could do with a few more cable cars or aerial gondolas to go up the steeper hills. Just let them carry bicycles.

Thanks Steven for the CDs, and Pavarotti for the singing.



4 responses

7 07 2010
Valparaiso Ascencors « The Gondola Project

[…] I was happy to oblige. Click here to see the wonderful […]

8 10 2010
Electric bike share « Wellington Region Cycleways

[…] For instance this blog has talked about Railcycles, Sailcarts, Flying bicycles, Bike elevators, Ascensors and Bicycle Tubes. It also has shown a few rides around the lower North Island and presented a few […]

1 12 2010
The Durie Hill Elevator « The Gondola Project

[…] about the Polanco elevator. As I’ve noted before on a post about the ascensors of Valparaiso, the Polanco elevator combines an elevator, a bridge and a tunnel to get people up a hill in that […]

7 05 2011
The sad demise of Valparaíso’s ascensors « Wellington Region Cycleways

[…] which are, and increasingly were, cable cars for getting up onto the surrounding hills. I wrote a blog post about them with lots of pictures, like this one of the Ascensor […]

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