The historic city of La Guaira was founded in the sixteenth century on the Caribbean Sea and served as the chief port for Venezuela’s future inland capital Caracas. This early Spanish settlement is a significant example of the adaptation of a colonial urban plan to mountainous, coastal topography. Several important colonial-era buildings and public spaces survive in the old part of the city, including San Pedro Apóstol Cathedral, Ermita del Carmen Chapel, and Guamacho Square. As a result, La Guaira was listed as a National Historic Landmark in 1969. However, the social fabric and civic prosperity of La Guaira were severely affected by a series of mudslides in December 1999. Due to this natural disaster and subsequent economic decline in the area, the city’s architectural heritage has been subjected to considerable neglect. In December 1999, the Institute of Cultural Patrimony carried out a survey of the state of conservation of the La Guaira historic center. Of 632 recorded buildings, 13% had been damaged beyond the possibility of restoration. However, restoration of the remaining 83% remained feasible. El Guamacho is a town square located on the east shore of the Osorio River, and is comprised of approximately 2500 square meters of underutilized space at the southeastern edge of the city’s historic district.
2004 and 2006 World Monuments Watch
La Guaira was placed on the 2004 and 2006 World Monuments Watch, drawing much needed attention to the area. The Fundación Cisneros, along with the municipal government, Simon Bolivar University, the Spanish Cooperation Crafts Training School of La Guaira, and others worked together to develop an urban rehabilitation plan for the city. Recognizing the viability of this strategy, WMF formed a partnership with Fundación Cisneros in 2005 with support from the Wilson Challenge to Conserve Our Heritage for the planning and conservation of one of the city’s chief historic areas, Guamacho Square. The aims of the project for Guamacho Square were to restore individual historic structures within Guamacho Square to sustain the area’s traditional identity and to encourage new uses for these historic spaces. The project included the rehabilitation of housing and the restoration of the historic plaza and fountain of El Guamacho. Between 2008–2009, the Universidad Simon Bolivar-Instituto de Estudios Regionales developed and published a Manual for Conservation of Traditional Houses (ABC de Conservacion de Viviendas Tradicionales). The final portion of the WMF grant was used to develop a rehabilitation plan for the Casa del Vínculo as a public library/cultural center, a project requested by the local community.
Established as Venezuela’s main port in 1589, the Historic Center of La Guaira boasts colonial architecture made of traditional building materials, such as adobe and tapia. The preservation of the sector of El Guamacho ensures the continuity of the cultural and historic legacy of the site, a site that has been an important center for social activity throughout the city’s development. The Guamacho project has resulted in the production of a manual for the conservation of traditional houses by the Simon Bolivar University.