Tuesday, October 19

Humberstone, the ghost town that was the center of the Chilean “belle époque” (and what it had to do with the origin of the War of the Pacific)

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  • BBC News World

Humberstone Saltpeter Office

Image source, Getty Images


The Humberstone nitrate office had its heyday between 1900 and 1929.

Going to the ghost town of Humberstone, in the Great North of Chile, is like traveling back in time.

Although no one has lived or worked here for more than half a century, among its desert alleys you can still see part of the facades of the offices, schools and even a large theater that gave life to this site between 1870 and 1960, when thousands of workers worked for a common purpose: the millionaire industry of the salitre, also called “white gold”.

They were happy times for this South American country. The enormous demand for the material from the industrialized nations of Europe led to a period of great enrichment, which was even called the “Belle Epoque”Chilean.

And it is that at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, almost all the saltpeter in the world came from the Atacama desert. And for Chile, its importance was vital: it represented between 40% and 60% of its tax revenue.


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