The 21st of May is an official holiday in Chile celebrating the Naval glories in Chilean military history. It is also called Navy Day or by its official Spanish name, “Día de las Glorias Navales.”
Why May 21st? The Battle of Iquique
May 21st marks the anniversary of the great naval battle of Iquique. This battle, on May 21, 1879, took place during the War of the Pacific between the naval forces of Chile and Peru.
Iquique is a port town in northern Chile that at the time was controlled by Peruvian forces. Chile’s navy had blockaded the port with two ships the Esmeralda and the Covadonga. Peru sent two vessels, the Huáscar and the Independencia to confront the Chilean blockade.
The Peruvian vessels where iron-clad and better armed than their wooden, Chilean counterparts. The Independencia chased the Convadonga away while the Esmeralda was left to fend off the Huáscar.
The cannon fire of the Esmeralda was ineffective against the iron-clad Huáscar and while the Peruvian vessel’s shots took a toll on the personnel of the Chilean ship, the damage to the ship was minimal.
The Peruvian captain of the Huáscar decided to ram the Esmeralda. The Chilean captain, Arturo Prat, yelled to his men to board the Peruvian ship but unfortunately not many heard him and he leaped onto the enemy ship and was shortly killed.
What is fascinating is that Chile technically lost this celebrated battle and had to leave Iquique. The Esmeralda was sunk with a significant loss of life along with her Captain, Arturo Prat.
So while this battle was lost, it became a great rallying cry for Chileans and the memory of Prat’s heroism encouraged a surge in recruitment. This enabled Chile to ultimately win the greater war and claim a large part of land that is today the extreme northern part of Chile.
Prat is now considered a national hero and you’ll find at least one street named after him in almost every Chilean town.
How is May 21st Celebrated?
Since this is an official holiday, stores and businesses across Chile will be closed. Public transportation will be limited.
Due to the military history of this day, you’ll find numerous parades and processions like these videos show throughout the country: