Seen from the air, PUNTA ARENAS, 3090km south of Santiago, is a sprawling patchwork of galvanized tin roofs struggling up from the shores of the Magellan Strait. On the ground, however, the city looks much more substantial and modern, especially in the centre where glass and concrete office buildings have replaced the ramshackle wooden houses, paid for in part by the oil.
Punta Arenas started life 60km south of where it is today, at a place called Fuerte Bulnes, the first Chilean settlement along the Magellan Strait. It was founded in 1843 by Captain John Williams, a seaman from Bristol in the service of the Chileans, with the aim of forestalling any other country’s attempts at colonization. In 1848 the new settlement moved to a more suitable location to the north, named by an English sailor “Sandy Point”, loosely translated into “Punta Arenas” in Spanish. Punta Arenas blossomed in the nineteenth-century sheep boom, when thriving immigrant communities from Croatia, Germany and elsewhere sprang up and left their marks.Read More
The city’s magnificent Cementerio Municipal covers four city blocks. Crisscrossed by a network of footpaths lined with immaculately clipped cypresses, this eclectic necropolis reflects the turbulent history of Patagonia. The monumental tombs of the city’s ruling families – some made of the same Italian marble as Michelangelo’s David and elaborately engraved with the English and Spanish names – mingle with the Croatian and Scandinavian names of immigrant labourers, etched on more modest gravestones.
A monument depicting a Selk’nam Indian is surrounded with plaques conveying the gratitude of those whose wishes it granted. See if you can spot the onion-domed crypt of the Braun family – one of the city’s founding dynasties – and the simple gravestone of Charles Milward.