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Sewell, also known as El Teniente, Chile

City of Staircases on the historic register


Sewell Chile,  El Teniente

Sewell Chile, El Teniente

Bob Borowicz
Sewell, also known as El Teniente, Chile, once an isolated copper mine is now an historical site: "Official recognition of the enormous importance of this great cultural and architectural work, the city-camp, began on September 9th, 1998, when the Ministry of Education officially declared Sewell a "heritage neighborhood", via decree 857, published in the Diario Oficial, Chile’s official Gazette.

Then, in 1999, Chile’s College of Architects, the national professional association, included it among the century’s ten most important urban works. It also began the process necessary to have it declared a National Monument. Now it is also on a UNESCO list of places that could be declared 'heritage sites'."

Sewell was unique, a mountain community that defied the elements and the difficulties to prosper, the only one like it in Chile.

At one time, in the 1960's, there were 16,000 people living here, men, women and children of many nationalities. The camp was a complete city in itself, but everything had to be brought in by narrow-gauge railroad. Only the ore brought up from the depths went out by air, in huge buckets of a tramway system that snaked down the hill to the smelter in Caletones. Photo of Ore Buckets.

The mine is still very much in operation, the deepest underground copper mine in the world. The products are Blister, Fire-refined copper, Electro-won cathodes, and Molybdenum concentrate.

This article is about the people who lived in Sewell. There is history and background to understand what a feat of engineering and endurance it was to make a life in that inhospitable environment.

There were primitive copper diggings on Cerro Negro for centuries before an American mining engineer named William Braden started mining operations there in 1904 as Braden Copper Company. The following year, the Chilean government authorized operations and the mine was under non-Chilean control until the mine was nationalized in 1971.

What happened in those sixty-seven years is quite a story. Read it on the next page.

(Click for enlarged photo.)

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