Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter Works

UNESCO World Heritage

Rescuing heritage on the Chilean Pampas

Outstanding Universal Value


Humberstone and Santa Laura works contain over 200 former saltpeter works where workers from Chile, Peru and Bolivia lived in company towns and forged a distinctive communal pampinos culture. That culture is manifest in their rich language, creativity, and solidarity, and, above all, in their pioneering struggle for social justice, which had a profound impact on social history.

Santa Laura’s leaching plant by Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter WorksUNESCO World Heritage

Situated in the remote Pampas, one of the driest deserts on Earth, thousands of pampinos lived and worked in this hostile environment for over 60 years, from 1880, to process the largest deposit of saltpeter in the world, producing the fertilizer sodium nitrate that was to transform agricultural lands in North and South America, and in Europe, and produce great wealth for Chile. Because of the vulnerability of the structures and the impact of a recent earthquake, the site was also placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger to help mobilize resources for its conservation.

Conservation Efforts by Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter WorksUNESCO World Heritage

United Kingdom and Ireland poster. Chilean National Archive.

The Nitrate Industry by Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter WorksUNESCO World Heritage

The office of Santa Laura by 1925. National History Museum Collection.

The office of Santa Laura by Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter WorksUNESCO World Heritage

Humberstone’s elaboration plant by the late 1880s. The development of the saltpeter industry reflects the combined knowledge, skills, technology, and financial investment of a diverse community of people who were brought together from around South America, and from Europe. The saltpeter industry became a huge cultural exchange complex where ideas were quickly absorbed and exploited. The two works represent this process.

Humberstone’s elaboration plant by the late 1880s by Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter WorksUNESCO World Heritage

Miners inside a saltpetre office, around 1900. National History Museum Collection.

Saltpetre Exploitation Systems by Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter WorksUNESCO World Heritage

During the nitrate boom, there were over two hundred saltpetre works in northern Chile. All of them were interconnected by a specially-built modern railway system, whose construction began in the second half of the 19th century and was financed by private British companies.

Nitrate Railway Line by Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter WorksUNESCO World Heritage

Pampinos culture


The saltpeter mines and their associated company towns developed into an extensive and very distinct urban community with its own language, organisation, customs, and creative expressions, as well as displaying technical entrepreneurship. The two nominated works represent this distinctive culture (criteria (iii))

Pampa Culture by Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter WorksUNESCO World Heritage

The arrival of thousands of people to the Atacama Desert highlighted the need for urban development planning at the saltpetre offices, paving the way to a region-wide transformation during the first half of the 20th century.

The Offices’ Urban Planning by Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter WorksUNESCO World Heritage

Humberstone’s Primary School by Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter WorksUNESCO World Heritage

Humberstone’s General Store by Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter WorksUNESCO World Heritage

Humberstone’s Theatre by Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter WorksUNESCO World Heritage

Humberstone’s Interpretation Centre occupies the general store’s former building, which has been refurbished to host an exhibition recreating scenes from pampinos’ everyday life.

Humberstone’s Interpretation Centre by Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter WorksUNESCO World Heritage

Santa Maria School massacre’s exhibition, Humberstone. Anyelina Rojas.

Pampinos and the Chilean Labour Movement by Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter WorksUNESCO World Heritage

Recognition and protection measures


Acknowledging the progressive deterioration that Santa Laura and Humberstone suffered after their abandon and their great value as a testimony of the nitrate boom in Chile, in 1970 the Chilean state began working on measures to protect and recognize this heritage.

Recognition and Protection Measures by Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter WorksUNESCO World Heritage

Along with the inscription of Humberstone and Santa Laura on the World Heritage List in 2005, these sites were also placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger, in order to cater for the serious threats to the conservation of their authenticity and integrity.

Humberstone from above by Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter WorksUNESCO World Heritage

The vulnerability of the structures and looting have been the main issues affecting both sites. These problems are the result of environmental conditions, natural disasters, abandon and human action. In this regard, in recent years several measures have been adopted for the safeguarding of these sites. At the last meeting of the World Heritage Committee held in Azerbaijan (June 2019), the site was removed from the World Heritage list in Danger.

Conservation Efforts by Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter WorksUNESCO World Heritage

Humberstone’s living quarters. Jorge López, SNPC.

Humberstone and Santa Laura’s Abandon by Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter WorksUNESCO World Heritage

Humberstone’s industrial zone. Nowadays, although the industrial installations have been mostly dismantled, the site boasts the remains of the urban settlement. This area constitutes an invaluable evidence of the human adaptation to the environment and the unique culture developed by its inhabitants. Jorge López, SNPC.

Humberstone’s industrial zone by Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter WorksUNESCO World Heritage

Detail of Santa Laura’s leaching tower. Jorge López, SNPC.

Humberstone and Santa Laura on the List of World Heritage in Danger by Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter WorksUNESCO World Heritage

Humberstone’s Interpretation Centre. Arturo Reyes.

Conservation Efforts by Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter WorksUNESCO World Heritage

Every third week of November, “Saltpetre Week” is celebrated in the Tarapacá Region. The commemoration programme, which is elaborated by pampinos’ associations, includes activities that take place both in Iquique – a major nearby city – and in Humberstone.

Saltpetre Week by Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter WorksUNESCO World Heritage

Credits: Story

This exhibit was created by Consejo de Monumentos Nacionales de Chile
www.monumentos.gob.cl/

More on Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter Works and World Heritage:
whc.unesco.org/en/list/1178

Photos: Patricio Carvajal; Chilean National Archive; National History Museum Collection; Jorge López, SNPC; L. Boudat & Co., Chile’s National Library Collection; National Monuments Council;Marcelo Espinoza, SNPC; Anyelina Rojas; Arturo Reyes; Arturo Morales

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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