Forgotten Places – Sewell, Chile

 | November 21, 2008 3:50 pm

I've been doing a bit of research for a short writing project. While doing so I came across this post over at WebUrbanist.  Though it is a bit of an oldie, it is still a goody!  In brief, the author looks at twenty four abandoned towns and cities from all over the world trough mini-photo essays.  Reading through the descriptions and looking at the images sent my wander-lust far into the red-zone. Ever thought about diving the ruins at Alexandria?

Me and Sewell

(Photo) The supply train arriving from Rancagua. The train was used to carry supplies and other materials as well as men. Everything at the site had to be brought in.

I found the little blurb on the town of Sewell, Chile to be particularly interesting as I've been to Sewell.  While living in Chile during 1999 and 2000, I and several friends made a day-trek to the place.  At the time that I went, I didn't have anything better to do and so I didn't know anything about it.  Neither, for that matter, did any of my friends.  We were there because a few of the locals said that it was an important part of Chilean history and that we should visit.  So, we did.

Unreal only begins to describe the experience.  Rather than a town, Sewell might better be described as a temporary labor camp that grew roots and notions.  It is built on the side of an outrageous cliff and was only accessible via train. We started our visit by piling onto the labor bus for the mine workers and then spent the next two hours winding our way up dirt roads that climb from Rancagua (near sea level) to the camp, which is above 6000 feet.

As the town was built off the side of a mountain, it has no streets (this becomes obvious when you look at a photo of the place; the impression you get when there is even more impressive). You can only get around via the (many) stairs. What is truly bizarre, however, is that everything is still there!  A lot of things look like the workers just stepped out and will probably be right back. The brightly colored buildings are still bright and the "streets" are in excellent condition. In fact, some of the accommodations appeared more comfortable than my apartment in Rancagua.

(Left) The abandoned mining city of Sewell, Chile during the 1930s. Sewell was finally closed in 1977, some ten years after the mine (known as El Teniente) was nationalized by the Chilean Government.

At its time, the place was an absolute thriving metropolis. There were 16,000 people that lived there from all over the world. Even more impressive, it thrived in what was otherwise a wasteland. Though 6000 feet certainly isn't the roof of the World, the mountains surrounding El Teniente are fairly barren and host snow for much of the year.

If you get a second, head over to the Wikipedia page and read a bit more about the place. Also be sure to check out the Retro Ski page, which has some really cool pictures.

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