Valparaiso: Unesco heritage site dubbed 'jewel of the Pacific'

PARIS (AFP) - Valparaiso, the Chilean port city once dubbed the "jewel of the Pacific" that is again under threat by fire after deadly blazes claimed 15 lives last year, is a Unesco World Heritage site.

Thousands of tourists visit the port city of 270,000 every year to marvel at the historic centre with its cobbled streets and coloured houses dating to the city's heyday from the mid-19th century to the early 20th.

Valparaiso became famous as a stopover point for ships steaming down the western flank of South America heading towards the continent's southern tip and on to the Atlantic Ocean.

The colonial jewel some 120km north-west of the capital Santiago is built on 40 hills offering stunning views over the sea.

The city is also famous for its iconic funicular railways up the hills, many of which are still in use.

The opening of the Panama Canal in 1914 spelled a spectacular drop in traffic calling in at Valparaiso and an end to the port's glory days.

It now relies heavily on tourism, and living standards are lower than the average in Chile.