By Brian Kluepfel
An extremely ambitious man Alexandre Gustave Eiffel designed buildings and bridges all over the world, so when Peruvian president José Balta invited him to construct a new church, Eiffel leaped at the chance. (Before the War of the Pacific, much of what is northern Chile was part of Peru or Bolivia.) The structure was originally intended for the coastal town of Ancon, but when a great earthquake felled Arica’s cathedral in 1868, the parts that had already been fabricated in Eiffel’s Parisian workshop were rerouted.
Eiffel took advantage of new building materials—for example, iron—in constructing the Iglesia de San Marcos, a job that took five years. The plates and girders were cast in an iron foundry in Paris and transported to Arica, where they were carefully assembled. The only part of this marvel of Gothic-style architecture that is wood is the massive front door. Eiffel’s structure withstood a harrowing test just two years after completion, when an earthquake and storm surge pummeled the town. In 2001, it stood tall again when parts of succumbed to yet another temblor.