Chapel at Bird Island in Peníunsula Valdes and a little history

Chapel at Bird Island in Peníunsula Valdes and a little history

The first photo of this article evokes a magazine picture promoting some Greek island with its domes typical of Mediterranean architecture and the deep blue sea beyond, but it is not. Actually, this is a paradise quite far from that other one. This picture is from a corner of the  Patagonia Argentina, a landscape lightened by the over encompassing dusk, reflecting its energy on the replica of the chapel Capilla del Fuerte San José at the Isla de los Pájaros. A solitary dwelling beside the natural reservoir interpretation center, this building looking back to old times we like to refresh in the collective memory is kept a distance away.


In this brief account, we recall old stories that keep chronological anecdotes from our past in this vicinity. The beginning of the new history, according to the entrance plate of the chapel, here at Peninsula Valdes and its surroundings, dates from February 26th 1535, with the landing of the Spanish expedition led by Simón de Alcazaba y Sotomayor with the ships ‘Madre de Dios’ and ‘San Pedro’ nearby Camarones. Two weeks later, on March 9th, this Spanish captain founded this province with the name Nueva Leon and, together with his expeditionary force, discovered the Guadalquivir river by land (Chico river and the Chubut river). A distance of hundreds of kilometers away from the Peninsula Valdes.


Ship sailing, both to carry provisions as well as to pick up raw materials from the Patagonic colonies, increased its frequency. It was only a matter of time until someone decided to land in the protected waters of the San José gulf and the Nuevo gulf. That was what took place some 200 years after the Camarones landing, namely, on January 7th 1779, when the first Spanish settlers arrived in the coastal area today known as Basilio Villarino beach, at the San José gulf, Peninsula Valdes.

Chapel at Bird Island in Peníunsula Valdes  Replica of the Historical Chapel Capilla del Fuerte San Jose
Seeking refuge from the hostile conditions the open waters unleash in these latitudes, Mr Juan de la Piedra, in charge of the frigate ‘Nuestra Señora del Carmen’ and a fleet including other ships, as ‘Santa Teresa’ and ‘Nuestra Señora de Oliveyra’, decides to journey into this wide gulf to avoid facing a probable tempest.
The landing took place in the southeastern shore of the San José gulf, and Mr Juan de la Piedra founded what later would be known as the fort Fuerte San José or Estancia del Rey. The general pilot Mr Basilio Villarino discovers fountains in a place which later would be named after him. Today, Villarino beach is accessible by land, lost in an endless immensity, and, at the height of the 21st century, there is nothing more there than a solitary and vast beach in the farthest corner of the world. In the old days, those pioneers, an enormously sacrificing force, settled at the ends of the American continent in ranches, and tended small vegetable gardens using watering channels, after having analyzed drinking water samples and confirmed the goodness of those fountains.
Chapel at Bird Island in Peníunsula Valdes and a little history
This village housed people from different trades, and in order to protect the Spanish sovereignty, they built a chapel, among other constructions, to settle definitively there. This chapel you can see at the Isla de los Pájaros (birds' island) is a replica of that historical chapel Capilla del Fuerte San José, 30 km away from the original site, where the fort La Candelaria had been erected. As accounted in documents written months later at the fort Río Negro and included in the records by Juan Coca, Juan Centeno, Juan Albornoz, Francisco Rodriguez, and Casimiro Nivacos, on August 8th 1810, chaplain Fray Bartolomé Poggio was offering mass when an Indian raid led by chiefs Colchecan Cossuna, Tanana, Zenchil, and Salu, among others, destroyed the building and the fort to the ground. According to the unofficial story, something must have happened to have this raid staged... To end a 30-year coexistence with such violence, some behavior in the settlers must have touched a raw nerve in the locals, who decided to leave a few survivals to tell the story. But beyond any speculation, interestingly enough, whoever gets to the Bird Island, with some imagination, can go back to a very distant time, to those first irruptions of the white peoples in these farther and rough Patagonic shores.
Orcas killer whale Season Punta Norte, Penguin Season in Valdes Peninsula Patagonia Argentina Whale Watching Season in Puerto Piramides