Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter Works
|UNESCO World Heritage Site|
|Location||Iquique Province, Tarapacá Region, Chile|
|Includes||Humberstone, Chile |
Santa Laura, Chile
|Criteria||Cultural: (ii), (iii), (iv)|
|Inscription||2005 (29th Session)|
|Area||573.48 ha (1,417.1 acres)|
|Buffer zone||12,055 ha (29,790 acres)|
Humberstone and Santa Laura are located 48 km east of the city of Iquique in the Atacama Desert in the Region of Tarapacá in northern Chile. Other saltpeter works or "nitrate towns" include Chacabuco, Maria Elena, Pedro de Valdivia, Puelma and Aguas Santas among many others. Chacabuco is a special case since it was also used as a concentration camp during Pinochet's regime, and to this day remains surrounded by lost landmines.
In 1872, the Guillermo Wendell Nitrate Extraction Company founded the saltpeter works of Santa Laura, while the region was still a part of Peru. In the same year, James Thomas Humberstone founded the "Peru Nitrate Company", establishing the works of "La Palma". Both works grew quickly, becoming busy towns characterized by English-style buildings.
While La Palma became one of the largest saltpeter extractors of the whole region, Santa Laura did not do well, as production was low. It was taken over in 1902 by the Tamarugal Nitrate Company. In 1913 Santa Laura halted its production until the Shanks extraction process was introduced, which enhanced productivity.
However the economic model collapsed during the Great Depression of 1929 because of the development of the synthesis of ammonia by the Germans Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch, which led to the industrial production of fertilizers. Practically bankrupt, both works were acquired by COSATAN (Compañía Salitrera de Tarapacá y Antofagasta) in 1934. COSATAN renamed La Palma into "Oficina Santiago Humberstone" in honor of its founder. The company tried to produce a competitive natural saltpeter by modernizing Humberstone, which led to its becoming the most successful saltpeter works in 1940.
Both works were abandoned in 1960 after the rapid decline that caused COSATAN to disappear in 1958. In 1970, after becoming ghost towns, they were declared national monuments and opened to tourism. In 2005 they were declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
- War of the Pacific
- List of Saltpeter works in Tarapacá and Antofagasta
- World Heritage Sites in Danger
- "21 World Heritage Sites you have probably never heard of". Daily Telegraph.
- Oficina Humberstone, formerly La Palma
- Chile's Mining Past Draws Tourists North: Santa Laura's pictures explaining saltpeter process
- "Decision: 29 COM 8B.51". Decisions of the 29th Session of the World Heritage Committee (PDF). Durban: UNESCO. 2005. p. 142.