Iquique ( ee-KEE-kay) is a port city and commune in northern Chile, capital of both the Iquique Province and Tarapaca Region. It lies on the Pacific coast, west of the Pampa del Tamarugal which is part of Atacama Desert. It had a population of 180,601 according to the 2012 census. It is also the main commune of the Greater Iquique. The city developed during the heyday of the saltpetre mining in Atacama Desert in the 19th century. Originally a Peruvian city with a large Chilean population it was ceded to Chile as result of War of the Pacific (1879–1883). Today it is one of only two free ports of Chile.
Although the city was founded in the 16th century, there is evidence of habitation in the area by the Chango people as early as 7,000 BC. During colonial times, Iquique was part of the Viceroyalty of Peru as much of South America was at the time, and remained part of Peruvian territory until the end of the 19th century. Iquiques early development was due in large part to the discovery of mineral riches, particularly the presence of large deposits of sodium nitrate in the Atacama Desert (then part of Peruvian territory).
In July 1835, Charles Darwin, during his voyage on the Beagle, traveled to Iquique and described it as a town "very much in want of everyday necessities, such as water and firewood". These necessities had to be brought in from considerable distances. Darwin also visited the saltpeter works.
The city has been devastated by several earthquakes, including the 1868 Arica earthquake, the 1877 Iquique earthquake, and the 2005 Tarapaca earthquake. The last one was a magnitude 7.9 on the Richter Scale, occurring on June 13, 2005.
Territorial disputes between Bolivia and Chile triggered the War of the Pacific in 1879. The Battle of Iquique was fought in the harbor of Iquique on May 21, 1879, now commemorated as Navy Day, an annual public holiday in Chile. The outcome of the war gave Chile this portion of the Peruvian territory.
Over the years there was substantial emigration from other parts of Chile to this area which was called the Norte Grande. In subsequent years the further exportation of Chilean saltpeter (mainly to European countries) significantly helped in the development of the city, attracting foreigners and rapidly expanding housing projects.
In December 1907, the city was marred by the Santa Maria de Iquique Massacre when the Chilean Army, under the command of Gen. Roberto Silva Renard, opened fire on thousands of saltpeter miners, and their wives and children, who assembled inside the Santa Maria School. The workers had marched into town to protest their working conditions and wages. Somewhere between 500 and 2,000 people were killed. The folk group Quilapayun recorded an album in remembrance of the event (Cantata Santa Maria de Iquique) in 1970. In December 2007 a series of cultural and ceremonial activities were planned, culminating in the week between December 14 to 21, to commemorate the centenary year of the massacre.
Prior to becoming Chilean territory, Iquique was home to some of the greatest Peruvian heroes, namely Alfonso Ugarte (who was elected Mayor in 1876), Ramon Zavala, a rich saltpeter entrepreneur; Guillermo Billinghurst, later President of Peru (who after being overthrown in 1914 came to Iquique – then already under Chilean rule – to live out his last years), and Ramon Castilla, three times president of Peru, who was born in San Lorenzo de Tarapaca and died in the Desert of Tiviliche, Tarapaca, who lived in Iquique during his mandate as Governor of Tarapaca in 1825.
On April 1, 2014, the city was damaged by an 8.2-magnitude earthquake.
Iquique has one of the largest duty-free commercial port centers of South America, the Zona Franca of Iquique (free zone of Iquique) which has been traditionally called Zofri. There are around 2.4 square kilometres (0.93 sq mi) of warehouses, banking branches, and restaurants.