A LOOK AT THE IMPLEMENTATION OF LIGHTHOUSES IN THE SOUTH OF CHILE
(1) Infographic Network of Lighthouses © Claudio Araya A. / (2) Infographic Cape Raper © Claudio Araya A.
Patagonia appears today as a territory still in a phase of determination. The late process of colonization that took place in Aysén, leaving a large natural space mostly abandoned and almost unexplored during two centuries of the Republic, is today an opportunity given the value the area has been assigned by the conservationist paradigm and its effects on the tourist industry.
In this scenario, we believe it important to shed light on some of the historical actions that defined the perspective from which the territory is now understood. Here, we review the plan for lighthouses in Southern Chile, an important part of the area’s operation and exploration, which determined the development of borders in Chile’s extreme south. (1)
(1) The present article is formulated in the context of the research of the Network of Southern Lighthouses, carried out by the authors and supported by the School of Architecture of the Finis Terrae University.
Marked by shipping expeditions, the history of Chilean Patagonia is tightly associated with the conscience of defining borders. In 1870, the Chilean Navy took on the mission of geographical recognition decades after the English completed their hydrographic studies with the goal of guaranteeing navigation in the South Pacific. Even then, in the early years of the Republic, the southern border was a weak reference. Although the strategic importance of the Strait of Magellan was understood, at that time sovereignty in the southern territories was just beginning to be defined. The consequences of the absence of the State in the extreme south are shown most clearly in the negotiations on the Border Treaty between Chile and Argentina in 1881 in which Chile gave up its claim to Eastern Patagonia.
Dominating the South Pacific.
Towards the end of the 19th century, the awakening of sovereign actions began with respect to the far reaches of Chile’s southern domains. President Montt ordered studies for the installation of a signaling system at the entrance to the Strait of Magellan from the Pacific by means of a lighthouse to be built in the Evangelistas islets (2). Until that moment, the continental recognition of Aysén and Magallanes had been practically nil. In contrast to the lack of effective occupation of the southern lands, dominance over the ocean channels was imposed. The period of exploration resulted in maps that facilitated navigation through the Reloncaví Sound, the Chonos archipelago, the Guaitecas, and the interior canals, graphically delineating the seafaring knowledge of the territory.
(2) Mateo Martinic and Julio Fernández, Faros del estrecho de Magallanes: Un patrimonio histórico y arquitectónico. (Lighthouses of the Strait of Magellan: Historic and Architectural patrimony) Punta Arenas: Ediciones Vanic, 1996
Light on Terra Incognita
Although the need for shipping security considered only the illumination of the Strait of Magellan, it soon extended to the north. Thus, a network of lighthouses was drawn up that transformed the interoceanic canal under a progressive vision imposed on the western maritime. With this sovereign action, the lighthouses were symbols, witnesses of a strategic infrastructure established by a Republic that projected itself to include its southern magnitude.
The Scottish engineer Georges Slight was key for the project’s evolution. During the construction of the Evangelistas Lighthouse, Slight developed a lighting strategy for the southern sea. The chronological order of implementation shows the scope of the territorial fragments, where the first building action was to ensure the navigation of the Strait of Magellan.
1892/ 1896 Islote Evangelista, 52° 24’ S 75° 06’ W, Western access
1897/ 1899 Punta Dungenes, 52° 24’ S 68° 26’ W
1897/1900 Posesión, 52° 17’ S 68° 58’ W
1897/1898 Punta Delgada, 52° 27’ S 69° 32’ W, Eastern access
1900/1907 Bahía Felix, 52° 58’ S 74° 04’ W, Western Mouth
1901/1902 Isla Magdalena, 52° 55’ S 70° 34’ W, Start of Paso Ancho
1901/1904 San Isidro 53° 47’ S 70° 59’ W, Paso del hambre
Illuminating the South required marking the route north. Then, in 1907 the Lighthouse Guafo started its operation, 43°33’ S 74° 49’ W, to the south of the archipelago of Chiloé. From there it remained to mark out the extremes of Patagonia, a part of the territory dark, inhospitable, and unknown. There a singular geography obligated all navigation to leave the security of the channels towards the Pacific, and take on the roaring winds of the Golfo de Penas (3). In this context, the Raper Lighthouse was erected. Over a rocky promontory, it was positioned at the formation Tres Montes, Península de Taitao: the westernmost continental extreme of Chile at 46° 49’ S 75 °37’ W.
(3) The roaring forties are easterly winds that run between the 40th and 50th parallels latitude South. These winds are cataloged by historical navigation as some of the strongest air currents in the world.
For Slight, the macro-scale commitment of his strategy marked the entire territory (4). He longed to shed light on the geographical darkness of the Trapanada (5), continuing the exploratory tradition by recognizing through demarcation this remote place, a territory that at the time was mapped but with just a brief description (6). The lighthouse’s construction from 1900 signified the implementation of a railway line 7 kilometers long from the landing area to the point of its location. The history of its construction is imbued with a modern, romantic spirit. It is the memory of a Chile that approached the landscape through an infrastructure that needed precision: the lighthouse. Today, 100 years after the establishment of this network, the lighthouses continue to stand as patrimonial signs in the midst of an elusive and desolate territory. With the light that Raper Lighthouse shed in 1914, the first strategic action could be visualized that showed Western Patagonia was a territorial unit, drawing the insular magnitude of Southern Chile in this geometric constellation.
(4) For Georges Slight, the Raper Lighthouse signified the culmination and consolidation of his lighthouse plan. He made a special point of demonstrating the importance of this geographic landmark. It took him more than 12 years to acquire the necessary resources for his construction company (Information provided by Mrs. Carmen Slight, granddaughter of Georges Slight in an interview for this research).
(5) “El primer nombre de Aysén había sido Tierra de la Trampa!¿No es como para ponerse a mirar Aysén con otros ojos, más alertas, más recelosos? ¡Tierra de la Trampa!” (The first name of Aysen was Land of the Trap! Is it like viewing Aysen with other eyes, more alert, more suspicious?) in Ignacio Balcells, Carta del Mar nuevo (Letter from a New Sea) Santiago, 1988
(6) Ximena Urbina, Expediciones a la Costa de la Patagonia Occidental en el Periodo Colonial (Expeditions at the coast of Western Patagonia in the Colonial Period) Chile: Institute of History, Pontifical Catholic University of Valparaíso, 2013
Sergio Araneda Maiz. Architect, Finis Terrae University, holds a Master’s degree in Art History Criticism and Architecture and a Master’s degree in Urban and Territorial Development. He is a professor at the School of Architecture of Finis Terrae University and founder of the SAA arquitectura + Territorio Office.
Francisco García Huidobro Tagle. Architect, Finis Terrae University. Candidate for Master’s degree in Research and Photographic Creation. He is professor at the School of Architecture of Finis Terrae University and its current Academic Secretary.
(3) Historic photographs, author Georges Slight, Construction Photographs Raper Lighthouse (1900/1914) © Personal archive Sra. Carmen Slight.
(4) A new chart of the east and west coast of South America, Comisiones Hidrográficas Marina Británica Parker King (1825/1830) © Archivo Cartas Náuticas, Biblioteca Nacional de Chile (Archive of Nautical Maps, National Library of Chile).
(5) Cartografía de las Comisiones Hidrográficas Armada de Chile, Comandante Simpson (1870/1873) (Cartography of the Hydrographic Commission of the Chilean Navy) © Archivo Cartas Náuticas, Biblioteca Nacional de Chile (Archive of Nautical Maps, National Library of Chile).