For centuries, wood was the only construction material available: Chiloé’s culture is based on wood, and present-day architectural trends continue in this tradition. Along almost all the interior coastline large collections of shells testify to the first human settlements on Chiloé. Villages and towns today are scattered along the same coasts.
Life by the sea was fundamental for the ancient inhabitants and lies at the root of Chiloé’s architecture: the palafito is a characteristic Chiloé construction, emblematic on postcards, calendars and souvenirs.
The palafito is a type of house found on the coastline, rooted in and raised above the ground so that boats can take advantage of the incoming and outgoing tides. Typically, behind the house is a garden where plants and vegetables are grown, clothes are washed and hung to dry, chickens are raised, etc. The best-known palafitos today are in the city of Castro. Most of the others were destroyed in the 1960 tidal wave and earthquake which lowered the archipelago by almost a meter, wiping out numerous beaches.
Chiloé’s houses are typically built of wood. Walls and roofs are made of larch shingles, doors, windows, stairs – all made of wood such as conifer, different varieties of Chilean beech, larch – fine woods which are increasingly scarce today and being replaced by other materials.
Houses are ample, and expand to meet needs. In Chiloé houses, particularly in the enormous kitchens, family life is woven in the sharing of stories and traditions throughout the winter.
Chilotes are a very religious people. The Jesuits played a decisive role in the development of Catholicism. Religious festivals allow small communities to meet up once a year, invaded by thousands of pilgrims. The churches are built and maintained by the community: some are enormous and quite out of proportion with the number of the village inhabitants.
It is in the construction of these churches where our mixed cultural heritage achieves perhaps its greatest splendor. In them we find a European model in symbiosis with the native world and the building materials indigenous to the island.