Argentina or Chile

The Vertex of the Cube that appears at Tierra del Fuego emerges in the most dramatic of the eight Places included in this proposal. Its very name is rich in meaning.. By a "fortunate coincidence," it includes those two basic elements -- Earth and Fire - that govern the project and "forge the harmony of the soul of the world."

This mysterious archipelago, located only a few degrees away from the Antarctic Polar Circle, is the southern end of the American continent. Its innumerable islands separated by narrow channels give it a labyrinth-like landscape. A Fuegian legend says that when God finished the work of Creation, he sneezed, scattering the remaining scraps of continental material in all directions. And thus was born Tierra del Fuego, not known to the West until the arrival of Magellan and Elcano.

In 1520, on a voyage in search of the Spice Isles, the Spanish arrived at this confluence of the two great oceans. Struck by its fierceness and by the many fires that sent up columns of smoke along its shores, they described it as "a land of extreme harshness and cold" and called it "Tierra de Humos," the Land of Smoke, which Carlos V finally turned into Tierra de Fuego, Land of Fire.

In later years, few people ventured to those remote islands. Except for daring navigators such as Diego Ramírez, Schouten or LeMaire, no one risked the challenge of the these savage and ghostly places. The icy winds and countless shipwrecks confirmed the cruel legend of Tierra de Fuego. Just the mention of Cape Horn was enough to make the boldest adventurers shudder, and accounts of its horrors thrilled the city dwellers of the era.

But around the middle of the 19th century, things changed. The rich pasturage of the Isla Grande and, as so often before, the discovery of gold, gave new impetus to settlement attempts. Hardy pioneers from all over the world arrived to settle and make this apparent no-man's land their home.

It was only apparently so, because up to that time and for more than two thousand years before, this land had been the country of the Ona, the Yaghans and the Alacalufs. These peoples trace their distant origin to the gentle valleys of the Amur, but some strange fate led them to emigrate to the most inhospitable part of the world. Silent and remote, they resemble each other neither in language nor appearance. The Yaghans are a relatively short people, who lived and fished in the coastal regions and feared the attacks of their neighbors, the Ona. By contrast, the latter were a gigantic people who dwelt in the inland part of Isla Grande. With their families and belongings, they roamed up and down the land, hunting the guanaco and living as fierce warriors who liked to display their ruthlessness. They feared nothing but the ghostly beings - perhaps the souls of their ancestors - with whom they shared the solitary landscapes of Tierra del Fuego.

Darwin, in his voyage on the Beagle, met them. He didn't like them. He called them the "wretched lords of this wretched land," and unjustly and mistakenly accused them of cannibalism. Years later, Lucas Bridge gave them more attention and respect, compiling a dictionary of the Yaghan language which included more than 30,000 words. But it was too late. The long trek from the Amur had reached its end. As so often in the past, the arrival of a civilized people meant the end of a primitive people.

Tierra del Fuego is now entirely different. Sovereignty over the region is peacefully shared by Argentina and Chile. Less gold was found than had been hoped, but other sources of riches emerged, such as oil, timber, fishing or cattle raising. Cities such as Ushuaia, Punta Arenas or Río Grande have good harbors and have grown with the stabilization of a population that traces its origins to the pioneers. Each year the number of visitors from all over the world grows, attracted by the legendary fame of its extraordinary natural wonders, which the Espasa Encyclopedia of 1921 describes thus: "Few countries possess such a contrast between the magnificent and the desolate, the arid and the hospitable, as Tierra del Fuego. Majestic mountains covered with perpetual snow, enormous glaciers, roaring waterfalls, thick evergreen woods, sheer cliffs and lush valleys make this land more remarkable, varied and scenic than even the most famous Alpine regions."



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