Navy Day, or ‘Día de las Glorias Navales’ in Spanish, occurs every May 21 and honors the day Chile fought a strategic battle against Peru. The Battle of Iquique, fought during the 19th century War of the Pacific, inspired countless young Chileans to fight for their country and eventually win the war against Bolivia and Peru. The national holiday is a day off for most people and a special celebration for the Chilean Navy, who honor their alums, Captain Arturo Prat and the crew of the Esmeralda, whose bravery and sacrifice sparked the flames of the Chilean revolution.
History of Navy Day Chile
Navy Day in Chile marks an important event in Chilean history — the day the Chilean Navy lost a major battle in their years-long border conflict with Bolivia and Peru. It was made significant by the bravery and resolve of a small crew aboard the Chilean ship, the Esmeralda, who gave their lives in pursuit of their goal, thus inspiring legions of Chileans to take up the mantle and fight for their country.
On the surface, the War of the Pacific seemed to have evolved from a tax dispute between Chile, Bolivia, and Peru, an ally of Bolivia. But historians believe the war erupted in 1879 because of simmering tensions between the three nations and a long-standing border conflict. Chile knew the sea routes were critical and blocked off the Peruvian port Iquique with the Covadonga and the Esmeralda. Within a month, Peru retaliated by sending two more modern warships, better equipped to handle and dole out heavy damage, to break the blockade. Captain Arturo Prat, commander of the Esmerelda, decided against retreat and stood his ground against Peru’s Huáscar, while another Peruvian warship, the Independencia, blocked the Covadonga. During the battle, Esmerelda was rammed three times and sustained heavy damage. Prat refused to give up and boarded the Huáscar with two shipmates in a last-ditch attempt to capture it. They were unsuccessful and perished on board as the Esmerelda sank with half its crew still within.
Prat’s death was a rallying cry and caused thousands of youths to join the Chilean navy, leading to the country’s eventual victory. He’s regarded as a national hero and has been honored with streets named after him, his face featured on the 10,000 Chilean peso banknote, and the celebration of Navy Day.
Navy Day Chile FAQs
How is Navy Day celebrated in Chile?
Chile’s elected officials give speeches, and there are various military parades, sporting events, and mini-festivals. People dress in traditional clothes and pay tribute to the Chilean navy, particularly Arturo Prat and his crewmates.
Who is the greatest naval hero of Chile, and what did he do to deserve such honorable recognition?
To most Chileans, Captain Arturo Prat of the Esmeralda stands out as the clear winner of the naval hero title.
What is the most popular holiday in Chile?
Chile has plenty of holidays to choose from, but their most popular is the ‘Fiestas Patrias’ or Independence Day, which is celebrated annually on September 18.
Navy Day Chile Activities
Hear the Chilean point of view
Have a Chilean buddy or know someone with Chilean roots? Talk to them to understand what this day represents to locals and how they celebrate this event.
Learn more about the Battle of Iquique
Grab some books, settle down with a documentary, or read an article that dissects the war and its impact on Chilean youth. Go a step further and learn more about the heroic Arturo Prat, his crew members, and the legacy they left.
Pay tribute to the Chilean Navy
Read up on Chile and its Navy to honor their sacrifices. While you're at it, why not check out other navies in modern world history?
5 Interesting Facts About Captain Arturo Prat
Prat’s time on the Esmeralda
Prat first boarded the ship as a nautical apprentice in 1860, when he was still studying at the Naval Academy.
He was a law student
In addition to studying at the Naval Academy, Prat also became a lawyer, studying while on board the Esmeralda as a naval student.
Prat the teacher
Prat also had a stint as a teacher, imparting his wisdom to the youth of the Benjamin Franklin School, which taught impoverished people in Valparaíso, a city in Chile.
His name is a famous street name
Chile has 144 streets called Arturo Prat and 130 named Esmeralda.
Another name for patriotism
Prat became so posthumously popular in Chile that newspapers would use ‘Pratiotism’ instead of ‘Patriotism.’
Why We Love Navy Day Chile
It commemorates a significant moment in history
The day holds a special meaning for Chileans and reminds them of their compatriots’ courage in the face of danger. Chile lost the battle but communicated its commitment to the war efforts. This is the sentiment the national holiday propagates.
It celebrates Arturo Prat
Prat’s bravery helped inflame Chilean youth and led to their victory over Peru and Bolivia. He’s the ideal Chilean navy man that all present members still try to emulate.
It shows us loss can inspire hope
Even with the initial loss, or perhaps because of it, the Chileans were not discouraged. Instead, they rallied their forces and used Prat’s sacrifice as their call to arms, which many historians believe turned the tide toward a Chilean victory.
Navy Day Chile dates