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Glorias Navales Commemorating the battle of Iquique
On the twenty-first of May, Chile celebrates a major holiday, the Glorias Navales, with festivities, celebrations, military parades, speeches, and commemoration services in honor of the Battle of Iquique on May 21, 1879, during the War of the Pacific.

There are many sporting events named Glorias Navales: yacht races bicycle racing, marathons, and others.

But what does this holiday celebrate? What are the Glorias Navales? To understand this, we need a little backstory.

Following independence from Spain earlier in the century, the country of Chile was much smaller than it is today.

In the north, the borders with Peru, Bolivia and Argentina were somewhat nebulous, since the arid, inhospitable Atacama desert wasn't thought to be worth much, but Bolivia owned the swath of land from current day borders to the Pacific.

The discovery of nitrate and guano deposits changed all that. Bolivia lacked the resources to develop the area, and contracted with Chile to do so. In the early 1840's, Chileans moved into the port of Antofagasta, set up mining and development projects and minerias, settlements, in the interior. There were continuing negotiations and business leases and all went fairly well until Bolivia levied a tax on the minerals. They wanted to make it retroactive for the past twenty-five years.

The Chileans refused to pay. Discussions became heated. Bolivia warned that if the taxes weren't paid by February 14, 1879, Bolivia would confiscate all Chilean-developed property. During negotiations between the governments, violence erupted in the desert. Chile broke off diplomatic relations two days before the deadline and sent several naval warships to Antofagasta.

Greeted warmly by the Chilean residents, the ships were seen as aggression by the Bolivians who declared war on March 10. Following the revelation that Bolivia had secret treaties with Peru and Argentina about the northern desert area, Chile declared war on Peru and Bolivia on April 5. Argentina had not ratified the treaty created in 1873 and thus was not involved in the present dispute.

At the beginning of the War of the Pacific, the Chilean navy had eight ships, ranging in age, armament and battle-readiness. The wooden corvette Esmeralda was the oldest with twenty-five years in service. The navy was based in Valparaiso, and supplies for the Chilean navy posed a problem.

Peru had six ships, including the iron monitor Huáscar, built in 1862 and commanded by Miguel Grau Seminario. The Peruvian navy had an easier supply job, based in the nearer ports of Arica, Ilo, Islay and the main base at Callao, however, much of their fleet was in the repair yard.

Command of the seas was an imperative for the Chilean navy. Until they could get their ships back to sea, the Peruvian forces struck where they could and avoided a major offensive. The Chilean navy blockaded the Peruvian port of Iquique with the expectation that this would bring the Peruvian fleet. When this did not happen, Chilean admiral Juan Williams Rebolledo divided his fleet into three. He sent the Blanco, Chacabuco and O'Higgins to attack Huanillos, Cochrane and Magallanes to attack Mollendo, leaving behind the wooden corvette Esmeralda, under the command of Arturo Prat Chacón, and the Virgen de Covadonga under the command of Carlos Condell de la Haza, and the transport ship Lamar behind to block the port of Iquique.

The President of Peru, General Manuel Ignacio Prado, had meanwhile ordered the relief of Iquique and sent part of the Peruvian navy to sink the Chilean ships. The two navies passed each en route without sighting the other.

Attack on the Esmeralda
La EsmeraldaOn May 21, 1879, the Huáscar and the Independencia, commanded by Juan Guillermo Moore, sailed into Iquique harbor. Prat ordered the Lamar to sea. The Huáscar opened fire on the Esmeralda while the Peruvian military on shore opened fire on the Virgen de Covadonga, commonly called the Covadonga, who sailed out of range, followed by the Independencia.

At one point in the battle, the two ships were close enough for Prat to issue a command to board the Huáscar. Only two men, Sergeant Juan de Dios Aldea Fonseca, and a sailor named Luis Ugarte, heard the command and jumped with Prat. The sergeant died immediately. Arturo Prat Chacón took two bullets; the second killed him. The bugler sounding the command was killed at the same time. Another bugler took up the bugle, was also killed, and a third sounded attack as the Esmeralda began to sink.

Commander Grau ordered the Huáscar back while he waited for the surrender. First Lieutenant Luis Uribe Orrego took command of the Esmeralda and after consulting with the officers, sent a man up the mast. Onlookers on shore as well as aboard the two vessels watched as the sailor nailed the remains of the Chilean flag to the mast. A huge Viva Chile sounded from ashore. The Chileans did not surrender, but continued to fight, following the Vencer or Morir (Win or die) motto adopted earlier by Admiral Cochrane.

The Huáscar attacked again, ramming the wooden ship, opening a breech and firing at close range. Two separate boarding attempts on the Huáscar were repelled. Fighting continued even as the ship sank with the bugler still sounding attack. After three and a half hours of combat, the Huáscar sank the Esmeralda. This painting by British artist Thomas Somerscales, who painted many of the battles of the War of the Pacific, shows with great detail the ships and the damage.

Of the 198 crew aboard the Esmeralda, only 58 survived. The Covadonga, sailing out of Iquique harbor to avoid fire from the shore batteries and the two Peruvian ships, set a southerly route. The Independencia pursued her. With a shallower draft, the Covadonga was able to hug the coastline, forcing the Independencia to risk going aground or lose the Covadonga.

The Independencia caught up with the Covadonga near Punta Gruesa and fired the bow cannon, but missed the Chilean ship. To avoid being rammed, the Covadonga's captain, Carlos Condell de la Gaza, make a risky move. He felt his keel touching the seabed and edged in closer to the rocky shore.
Peruvian captain Juan Guillermo Moore followed, an error in judgment. Thinking he could ram the Chilean ship, he sped forward and struck the submerged rocks. Condell fired, causing damage to the Independencia's superstructure. Captain Moore struck the colors. Seeing that Independencia was stuck fast, Condell headed north, bound for Iquique. When he saw Huáscar heading south, he realized it was too late for the Esmeralda. Huáscar rescued the crew from the Independencia rather than attack the Chilean convoy carrying supplies, men and ammunition to Antofagasta. The Peruvian navy was down to one warship - the Huáscar - out for revenge.

Definitive naval battles
El HuascarFive days after sinking the Esmeralda at Iquique, and rescuing the crew of the Independencia at Punta Grueso, Captain Miguel Grau Seminario and the Huáscar attacked the port of Antofagasta, and the next day captured two merchant marine ships at Cobija.

In the weeks and months following, the Peruvian ship harrassed Chilean shipping, attacked, and re-entered the port of Iquique, engaging the Magallanes and retreating back to the port of Arica. It captured the Chilean convoy ship Rimac which carried 300 men, horses and supplies.

The continuing blockade of Iquique became impossible. The Chilean navy brought its ships back to Valparaiso for repair and refitting. The Huáscar continued to shell Chilean-occupied ports, the navy and made things very difficult for the Chilean armed forces.

In October, the Chilean navy was on the hunt for the monitor. Part of its ships stayed near Antofagasta to trap the Huáscar there, part of it set up a naval barrier at sea. On October 8, the Huáscar met the Chilean ships Blanco, Cochrane, O'Higgins and the troop transport ship Loa off Punta Angamos. Surrounded by Chilean ships, the Peruvian ship opened fire. Returning salvos severely damaged the Huáscar. One destroyed the bridge, killing Captain Grau and others instantly. Shortly after, the Huáscar lowered the flag, but somehow fighting continued for another hour until the monitor, now badly damaged, surrendered again.

The Peruvian officer now in command of the Huáscar ordered it to be sunk to avoid capture, but the Chilean forces prevented that. They boarded, making sufficient repairs to keep it afloat and escort it to the port of Mejillones, where further repairs allowed it to sail to Valparaiso for extensive repair and refitting.

The Chilean forces honored their fallen enemy, particularly Captain Grau, with full ceremony.
With Huáscar now in Chilean hands, Peruvian naval forces were all but annihilated.

Though the Battle of Iquique and the following naval battles of Punta Gruesa and Punta Angamos effected the outcome of the War of the Pacific, the fighting continued until 1884 at sea and on land. The Huáscar, now flying the Chilean flag, was largely instrumental in the remaining naval battles.

Peru and Bolivia lost and ceded to Chile what is now the provinces of Tarapacá, Tacna, Arica, and Antofagasta. On May 21, 1886, the Monumento a los Héroes de Iquique y a las Glorias de la Marina was erected in Valparaiso, the navy's home port. The remains of Arturo Prat Chacón, Ignacio Serrano Montaner and Juan de Dios Aldea Fonseca were interred there in full military ceremonies. This monument is the site of annual ceremonies to celebrate the Glorias Navales, in which Chile won dominion of the seas.

Arturo Prat Chacón is revered as Chile's greatest military hero, and the house where he was born is a national monument. The Huáscar continued on active duty until the early 1900's. After a complete restoration, it is now on permanent, honored display as the reliquary of the Glorias Navales.


Chile Flag
Festival Date
New Year 1
San Sebastián de Yumbel 20
February 2 Virgen de la Candelaria (Copiapo) 2
Semana Santa
Sunday after Easter Sunday Cuasimodo
(Santiago area)
Labor Day End of May Corpus Christi 1
Battle of Iquique 21
We Xipantu, Mapuche New Year (Temuco) 24
San Pedro y San Pablo 29
Asunción de la Virgen 15
1973 Military Coup National 11
Fiestas Patrias, also known as the
Dieciocho Independence Day National
Armed Forces Day National 19
Pampilla de Coquimbo 20
Columbus Day 12
Fiestas Patrias - San Clemente 12
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Christmas Day 25
Fiesta De La Virgin Del Rosario Andacollo 24 - 27
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