March 29, 2014

Viña del Mar and its International Song Festival

Vergara Palace, Viña del Mar's Fine Arts Museum. 
© Marcela Torres

by Marcela Torres

The 53rd version of the Viña del Mar International Song Festival kicked off last night and I thought it might be a great opportunity to talk a little bit about this famous resort city in Chile’s Central Coast.

A Bit of History

Viña del Mar is one of Chile’s youngest cities. During colonial times, the territory was divided into two estates. The first, called “Viña del Mar” (Vineyard by the Sea), was located on the northern bank of the Marga Marga stream and had its own vineyard. The second, called “Siete Hermanas” (Seven Sisters), extended on top of the seven hills of the area.

A rich Portuguese investor bought the Viña del Mar estate in 1835 and the Siete Hermanas estate in 1840, thus owning the entire Viña del Mar valley. These properties were inherited by his daughter and her husband, Francisco Vergara, who founded Viña del Mar in 1874.

The city flourished and became a favorite beach resort for affluent people from Santiago and the neighboring port of Valparaíso. Because of its many large houses with huge gardens, it soon became known as the “Garden City”.

Music in the Park

Each year, thousands of people swarm the streets of this city, which regularly has approximately 300,000 residents. However, this figure can reach up to one million during the summer, when tourists from the rest of Chile, Argentina and other foreign countries come to visit attracted by its beaches, mild weather and, of course, the Festival.

The Viña del Mar International Song Festival is held annually during the last week of February since 1960 at the Quinta Vergara (Vergara Park), which is what remains of the old estates. It is considered the most important musical event in Latin America. The Festival features a song competition in two categories (pop music song and folk song), combined with performances by international music stars from around the world. Sting, Ricky Martin, Gloria Estefan, Tom Jones, Sheena Easton, REO Speedwagon, INXS, Donna Summer and Bryan Adams are among the many artists who have performed at this beautiful and historical place.

The Festival has helped boost the careers of several singers, such as Shakira, who participated in the pop music song competition representing Colombia in 1993, when she was only 16 years old, with a song written by her. She came in third, but received a special award as best performer.

But the Quinta Vergara is more than just music. Its Venetian-style palace houses Viña del Mar’s Fine Arts Museum and is surrounded by a beautiful garden with trees from all five continents, which is definitely worth visiting.

Stay the Night

Unfortunately, most foreign tourists come to Viña del Mar for just a day trip, so they miss a lot of what this bustling city has to offer, starting with its active night life and fantastic restaurants. The Botanical Garden, the Fonck Museum and its amazing collection of artifacts from Easter Island, the neighboring port of Valparaíso with its World Heritage Sites and the nearby Mantagua Wetland, which is a bird-watching paradise in Concón, are just a few of the many surprises in store for you… if only you would stay the night.

This entry was originally posted by the author on February 23, 2012.

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