History of the Stilt Houses in Chiloé Island, Patagonia, Chile
The palafitos are present in the edges of lakes, ponds, rivers, wetlands of the sea of all the continents, although they predominate in Asia and South America. These constructions served to protect themselves from hostile animals and neighbors. The origin in Chiloe would be associated with the maritime history of native peoples such as the chono (sea nomads), and the huilliche (earth nomads), that settled in the coast land of Chiloe.
Architecture of the Palafitos of Castro, Chiloe
The stilt houses are of an architecture built with native woods from the evergreen forest of Chiloe, the piles on the water are from dense wood of luma or cypress from Guaitecas, and the wall and roofs coverings, such as tiles, are made of alerce wood. They have two fronts, one facing the street and another towards the sea that serves as a terrace-dock where the boats are moored; they are often interconnected trough wooden bridges. These characteristics were forming a relationship between the sea and the land. The constructions were located on fiscal lands. The gratuitousness of the illegally occupied land, made the cost was enormously cheaper. Is for this reason the inhabitants have historically been associated with poverty and precariousness.
Palafitos of Gamboa in Castro, Chiloé Island
On the Island of Chiloe, in the middle of the 19th century the stilt houses appear in many places. The most important of the time is the neighbourhoods Gamboa. In this place they not only fulfilled a commercial function, but also housing, and communicated with the city through an old bridge of wood. It was possible to identify neighbourhoods like this in Ancud, Chonchi, Quemchi, Dalcahue, Quinchao, Quellón, Puqueldón and Mechuque. The daily life inside these constructions happened in the kitchen with its wood stove, with a privileged view to the sea. The palafitos suffered immense natural catastrophes such as earthquakes, tidal waves and fires. They have also had to face the modern changes of architecture and the passage of time. All these factors could transform part of their magic, but their architecture never lost identity or memory.
We can appreciate them today thanks to the work of many professionals who have dedicated themselves to raising awareness and maintaining traditional palafitos. One of them is the prominent Chilean architect Edward Rojas, founder and director of the Museum of Modern Art of Castro, and responsible for the restoration of four of the sixteen churches declared World Heritage by UNESCO. He is also the architect restorer of several hotels in palafitos in Chiloe, among which the Palafito 1326 Boutique Hotel y Palafito Cucao Lodge stand out. Different social and cultural processes allowed the transition from the old palafito to the modern palafito. Currently there are almost no wineries or barracks, but we can see stilt houses that fulfil other functions. The neighbourhood of Palafitos de Gamboa, one of the survivors of the earthquake and tsunami of the 60s, is a great example where Palafito 1326 Boutique Hotel and Palafito Hostel Boutique are located, among others. We can also find craft shops, cafes and restaurants. These new and modern functions allow the palafitos to continue being part of a unique identity in Castro and its inhabitants.
History of Castro, Capital of Chiloé, Los Lagos Region, Chile
Castro is the capital and heart of the Big Island of Chiloe, located in the Lake District, and is the third oldest city in Chile. The location, culture and history make the city an urban centre to know and discover activities. It was Captain Martín Ruiz de Gamboa and Avendaño who took possession of the archipelago and founded the city of Santiago de Castro, in February of 1567.
In 1788 Castro ceases to be the capital of the Spanish province because of two earthquakes that greatly reduced the city's population. Ancud was the new provincial capital. But the progress of the Castro area reappeared thanks to logging, fishing and potato production, and together with the construction of the railroad, made it regain its importance as the centre of the archipelago. For 1982 it was again the provincial capital. At present, the Big Island has a population of 43,807 inhabitants (2017), of which about 77.7% live in the city of Castro. It has an urban infrastructure prepared for all its inhabitants and tourists who come every year to be amazed by the magic of the area.
Its geography, the colonial period and the late incorporation into Chilean territory made a mixture of cultures that formed traditional customs and gave a unique identity to the place. Although it is a deeply Catholic people, the inhabitant of the island maintains a complex belief system about the mythical world. Divinities of the water and the forest, magic formulas, sorcerers, shamans and an extensive Chilote (from Chiloe) mythology, coexist with Catholic religiosity.
There are many myths that lead you to the dark jungle of the interior of the islands, such as the Trauco or the Fiura, or the deities of the sea, such as the Millalobo or the Pincoya. There are also accounts of the origin of the lands such as the fight between Tentén Vilú and Caicai Vilú in the early days of the world. There is also the Caleuche, boat of dead sailors, or the boatman of Tempilcahue, responsible for crossing the souls of the dead to the underworld. Witchcraft was very important on the island until well into the twentieth century. The sorcerers during the nineteenth century were more powerful and influential than the intendant/mayor of the Island. They were grouped in a secret society called the "Straight Province", popularly known as the "Majority", and they had a complex organization that was partially dismantled during the trial of the sorcerers of Chiloe, in 1880.
The slow process of opening the island to the rest of the world that began in 1826 with the incorporation of Chiloe into Chilean territory and that accelerated from the 1960s, and was transforming part of the traditions of its inhabitants. The new economic and social aspects and the big influence of the media weakened the old habits of the community, leaving a good number of traditional customs in increasingly remote and isolated places.
The churches of Chiloe, a World Heritage Site, are unique in Latin America because they have a religious architecture of wood. They represent a tradition initiated by the Jesuit Mission in the 17th and 18th centuries, continued and enriched by the Franciscans during the 19th century and which still prevails today.
These extraordinary churches are a successful combination of indigenous and European culture, the full integration of their architecture into the landscape and the environment, as well as the spiritual values of the communities. Sixteen churches are considered a National Historic Landmark of Chile, and since 2000, a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.