The preservation of the saltpetre mining sites Santa Laura and Humberstone in Chile (UNESCO World Heritage Sites)

Chile has the richest deposits of saltpetre in the world. They are located in the north of Chile in a roughly 700 km strip of land in the Atacama Desert. The extraction of salts from the nitrate strata (known as the caliche salitrero) began in the early 19th century, flourished in the middle of the second half of the 19th century, and reached its peak between 1900 and the end of the First World War. Eventually the industrial production of chemical fertilizer heralded the end of saltpetre mining.

Nearly all the saltpetre mining sites, known as oficinas, were more or less stripped bare after the boom. Metal and timber parts were put to other uses, and all that remained were ruins and waste heaps (torta de ripios). Only two complexes, Humberstone and Santa Laura, to the east of Iquique, remained largely untouched. Today they are recognized as world heritage sites, yet at the same time difficult preservation conditions (high levels of salt contamination) mean that they are on the list of endangered objects. The DBM, as a specialist in the preservation of industrial heritage sites, will be participating in international research on the conservation of these complexes. Preliminary inspections of the severely corroded metal components from Santa Laura have already taken place. The findings were presented and publicized at the international experts’ meeting ‘Conservation of wood and metal structures in the Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter Works’ from 20 to 25 October 2012 in Iquique/Chile. The Chilean parties (heritage protection agencies and those responsible for the mines) subsequently requested further support, and expressed a desire for continuing collaboration.

Responsible body

Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum


Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum

Consejo Monumentos Nationale de Chile (CMN)

Corporacion Museo del Salitre (CMS)




weitere internationale Experten


2013 ff.



  • Slotta, R., 2011. Chile und seine Salpeterindustrie. In: R. Slotta & I. Schnepel (Hrsg.), Schätze der Anden. Chiles Kupfer für die Welt. Ausstellungskatalog Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum, 43-76.