September 16, 2012

0333 CHILE (Libertador General Bernardo O'Higgins) - Sewell Mining Town (UNESCO WHS)

Situated in the Andes, on volcano Cerro Negro, at about 2100m high, 80km from Santiago and 60km to the east of Rancagua, in an environment marked by extremes of climate, Sewell is the site of the world’s largest underground mine, with about 1500km of galleries. Built by the Braden Copper company in 1905 to house workers at copper mine El Teniente, is, according to UNESCO, which designated it in 2006 a World Heritage Site, under the name Sewell Mining Town, "an outstanding example of the company towns that were born in many remote parts of the world from the fusion of local labour and resources from an industrialized nation, to mine and process high-value natural resources. The town was built on a terrain too steep for wheeled vehicles around a large central staircase rising from the railway station".

In the first decade, were developed Pueblo Hundido and El Establecimiento, where were built a concentrator, a hydroelectric plant, and ferry cables for the overhead transport. A narrow gauge railroad line between Sewell and Rancagua was started in 1907 and was completed in 1911, remaining the only way in and out of the mining camp for personnel and goods. Business functions clustered around the staircase leading up from the railroad station, and over time the staircase became known as the Escalera Central. The goods were carried up to destinations by porters, called Cargadores.

Known at the beginning as The Establishment or The Mill, the settlement was composed of houses of wood (with few exceptions), with two or three stories high, narrow and long, despite the numerous dangers which threatened them, like earthquakes, avalanches and explosions. At its peak, in the 1960's, Sewell was inhabited by 16,000 people, but was largely abandoned in less than a decade, because in 1967 the Chilean government obtained 51% of the company, and the population was moved to Rancagua, being built the Carretera de Cobre (Copper Highway). The galleries descended so much in mountain, that a train tunnel built in the valley, near Rancagua, could transport the miners directly to their stations, without having to ascend to Cerro Negro.

As a result, Sewell became almost a ghost town, only certain sections being maintained for historical and tourism. Visiting the site is only allowed to tour operators, it's not possible to access the area with private vehicles so, as Hernán say, "it's difficult to find postcards of Sewell". Muchas gracias, amigo.

About the stamps
The first two stamps on the left are part of a series about Rapa Nui (Easter Island) Takona Body Painting, about which I wrote here.

The others fourth belong to the Valparaíso, Patrimonio de la Humanidad set, about which I wrote here.

The last one, issued on October 21, 2011, shows a mailbox.

Sewell, Chile - Wikipedia
Sewell Mining Town - UNESCO official site
Sewell, also known as El Teniente, Chile -

Sender: Hernán (direct swap)
Sent from Santiago (Chile), on 01.08.2012


  1. I like the simplicity of the mailbox stamp.

  2. I find it interesting that a mining town can become an UNESCO site! thank you for all the information, and thank you for participating!

  3. I don't know why most of the mailboxes are in Red,which is I really like,though US is in blue.
    My Sunday Stamp:Everything Postal

    1. :) I suppose that because the red was assimilated with the British (the British uniform was red, the American uniforme was blue).

  4. Replies
    1. I like the stamps with white background.

  5. What a fascinating story of mining, the statistics are amazing.
    I like how the postbox stamp stands out amongst the pastel colours of the others on the card.

    1. Until receiving this postcard, I hadn't heard about this mine. Perhaps I should have to say that Bonnie Hamre, the author of the article from that I used as source, spent his childhood there, what I find important.