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Home/Stories and articles/Recovery
June 2005

Our religious patrimony after the earthquake

Last June 13th's earthquake deeply altered the patrimonial geography of Chile's Northern regions. The movement's epicentre was located in the middle of our "altiplano", and it brought down several churches, leaving others in ruins. What's needed new is an on-site inspection for a technical evaluation of the damages. Otherwise, the ball and chain will end up doing what the earth did not.

By Bernardo Guerrero Jiménez

The church of Tarapaca was built in honour of San Lorenzo, whose main holiday is celebrated every August the 10th. He's the Saint of the poor and the outcasts, and his church was one of the most damaged with the recent earthquake. The same happened to the building of the Intendencia Regional, a national monument, and a convent built originally in 1872. There's also some damage in several buildings that were important during the Pacific War, such as the Campaña Hospital. The church of Matilla, located nearby the Pica oasis, is also in serious risk. We do not have much information about Mamiña, nor about the churches of Colchane, Cariquima, Quebe, Mauque, Isluga, Enquelga or others around the area.

Seismic history
According to historical data, one concludes that the area's first earthquake was the one of January 22nd, 1582. In February the 12th, 1600, there was a new one, followed by new earthquakes in 1604, 1687, 1715, 1725 and 1868. The best known is that of August the 13th 1868, which literally devastated the city of Iquique. During the 20th Century, the North could pretty much live in peace, only interrupted by the 1987's earthquake which affected the are of Chiapa.

Such a background calls for a specific emergency program for patrimonial sites, which should be treated differently than regular houses or buildings. There's a need for a Historic and Architectural perspective, based on the intent for recovering as much as possible. We should avoid the ball and chain at all costs, specially when coming from that attitude which calls to "complete demolition". Because after it's done, we will regret not having thought with a longer term criteria.

It's urgent for the expert's voices to be heard. But those of both professionals and the community, since it's the latter who interacts with heritage on a daily basis. For the aymaras, for instance, all religious symbols have a direct relation with health and the abundance of their crops and livestock.

The use of the cadastre
On the year 2002, the Cultural and Company Heritage Corporation Doña Inés de Collahuasi commissioned a group of Iquique professionals the making of a cultural heritage cadastre of Iquique's province. It was coordinated by Lautaro Núñez and Cecilia García Huidobro, and the work was focused on registering and assessing both the material wealth and the intangible heritage.

After the recent earthquake, such a cadastre gains even more relevance. The work of architect Mario Cayasaya Dodero gives a thorough account of the zone's churches and other patrimonial sites. It offers an invaluable tool for any restoration work. I insist in the word: restoration. What's needed now is a rescue effort that includes the public and private sectors, as well as the community.

The June 13th's catastrophe should give us the chance to prepare, and not too long from now, a whole policy about patrimony. With concrete measures and fresh resources.

Because the Chile that we find beyond our North knows of ancient cultures and towns. Names such as San Lorenzo, Matilla, Mamiña, Huara, Sibaya, Limcsiña are part of a History and geography of more than 10,000 years of age. And they have survived.

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