If there was ever a "promised land" for a small band that sought a place to make their dreams come true in a peaceful setting, it was the lower valley of the Chubut river, and the band of dreamers were the Welsh settlers that arrived in Argentine Patagonia in the late 19th century.
The colossal efforts of these Welsh pioneers were crowned with the building of a branch railway line joining Golfo Nuevo with the Valley, giving birth to the city of Trelew.
In January 1886, an agreement was signed with the company to take over the construction of the railway line, and Lewis Jones and Thomas Davies, the men behind the plan started work immediately.
At the head of the track, sheds, living quarters and offices mushroomed, so that work could start no sooner had workers and raw materials arrived on site.
From the port of Liverpool, a group of 300 Welsh settlers embarked to help build the railway.
Six months after the work had begun, a small village had already taken shape at this spot.
Oral and written testimony shows that Lewis Jones was the main driving force behind railway development and its consequences on the regional economy.
Thus, the town took the name of Trelew (after Tre = town in Welsh, and Lew short for Lewis) as a tribute to the man who worked so hard to develop this colony.
As a railhead, Trelew grew rapidly, and in early 1888 the headquarters of the "Compañía Mercantil del Chubut" (Chubut Trading Company) was established there; in 1889 the Tabernacle chapel was built; in 1903 the first municipal commission to census the population was designated, and in March 1904 authorities were elected by vote.
That same year, Lewis Jones died and was buried in the Moriah cemetery, by the river, facing Trelew.
Already in the 20th century, Trelew had become a vigorous colony, because its location close to the sea and lying on the northern slope of the Chubut river valley and on the edge of the important National Route Nº 3, helped to create a sustained pace of economic growth.
Today it is an important trade and communications center in the northeast of Chubut.
Jets and prop planes connecting it with all parts of the country leave and arrive at its airport daily, and it is the terminus for road passenger transport firms with routes covering the whole country, northwards, southwards and towards the Cordillera.
Its large population and the numerous vehicles that ply its streets reflect this city's vigorous spirit and confirm it as the "most progressive city in southern Argentina".
Its many comfortable hotels and night spots, as well as its shops keep it intensely active twenty four hours a day.
The landing of the Welsh settlers was not only the first step in Chubut's development, but also another link in an ancient cultural saga.
For centuries the druids (followed by Christian missionaries) developed literary and musical traditions that were so strongly rooted in the Celtic peoples that they permeated all levels of society: from lavish castles and palaces to the murky depths of the mines.
In 1875 the colonists organized the first Eisteddfod in Chubut. This was held during several years and then discontinued, but after a long interval in 1965, the descendants of the original pioneers revived their ancestor's festivity.
The name is Welsh in origin and is formed by the two Welsh verbs "eistedd" (to sit) and "fod" (to be).
Some think that this name arises because the audience remains seated during the festival. However, the real reason is because from its beginnings (in the city of Caerfyrddin, in 1541), the prizewinner of the contest for the best poem was seated in the "Bard's Chair".
The Eisteddfod is, therefore a literary-musical festival whose main figure is the "Bard", a player who recites his poems in the Welsh Gaelic language. Spanish language poets and choirs also take part. The main festival is surrounded by a host of other artistic competitions.
It takes place in October and is only held in this province and in Wales itself.
WHAT CAN ONE SEE IN THE CITY?
With its own particular atmosphere, Trelew is worth touring calmly, the traveler should keep his eyes and ears well open and search out its many hidden secrets.
The traditional historic circuits are the old railway station, now a National Historic Monument and housing the "Pueblo de Luis" Regional Museum. This was built in 1889 on the site where covered wagons drawn by teams of oxen brought the agricultural products that were later embarked at Puerto Madryn.
It shows an exhibit of the traditions of the ancestors of Chubut's population: Tehuelche Indians, Mapuche Indians and Welsh immigrants.
The colony's most important poet, Morris A.P. Hughes, also has his place here.
Facing the museum is the monument that was erected in 1910 as a homage to Freedom and Agriculture.
Saint David's Hall
The Society of Saint David was created in 1891 as a tribute to the national patron saint of Wales. The building was completed in 1913, and officially inaugurated two years later.
Welsh chapels in the Chubut valley
Although the Welsh colonists were Protestants, the diversity of creeds that they followed caused over 30 chapels to be built, most of which are still standing.
The community, headed by the druids (multi-function pastors), used these buildings as combined meeting rooms, temples, law courts and schools.
The traveler visiting Trelew on July 28 can attend a curious ceremony in all the Welsh chapels: the Gwyl y Glaniad Tea, celebrating the landing of the settlers.
This square, inaugurated in 1910, bears the name in honor of the centenary of the May Revolution. That is when the arbor/grandstand at its center was built. It is one of the city's most original constructions. Its locally crafted woodwork is in the "Victorian Gingerbread" style.
Visual Arts Museum
This is located in another historical building, facing Independence Square. It contains part of the cultural heritage of the area: local and provincial artworks
It also offers cultural extension activities, such as traveling exhibits, displays, workshops, courses, lectures, debates, shows and exhibitions of every kind, from classic to unconventional, featuring: drawings, paintings, sculpture, photography, engravings, collectors' items, installations and others.
Built in the first half of 1889, it is the oldest building in the city. Its patrons belonged to the Methodist-Calvinist Church. The inside woodwork dates from 1910.
Facing it there is a memorial plaque placed on the first centenary of the arrival of Welsh immigrants to Chubut in 1885. This chapel, as all the others raised by the Welsh, is the center of multiple community cultural activities.
The Italians settled in Chubut during the eighteen eighties, and in 1908 founded the "Sociedad de Socorros Mutuos Paz y Patria" in Trelew and also built the Verdi Hall, which was inaugurated in 1914.
At first, it was used as a skating rink, and afterwards as a theater. In 1930, the first locally shown sound film was projected here: "Love never dies", starring Gary Cooper.
It was the headquarters of the municipality until the present building was erected in 1931.
María Auxiliadora Parish Church
The old Temple of Trelew, with its boy's school annex operated in the building on the corner of San Martín and Rivadavia as from 1907, attended by the Salesian missionary Juan Muzio. The parish church that exists today was built in 1961.
The María Auxiliadora School started classes in 1909 using the premises of San Martín and Mitre. That is where several generations of girls from all over the region were educated. The present building dates from 1970.
The first National Primary School started functioning in 1903 in part of this building
It had been created in 1895 as from a private school that had been started six years earlier by the Welsh colonists, and whose inauguration coincided with the arrival of Trelew's first doctor.
Hall of the Spanish Society
In the early 20th century Spanish immigration covered almost all Patagonia. Typical establishments such as the Spanish Mutual Aid Societies and the "romerías" appeared.
Trelew was built in 1908 and its Theater Hall was inaugurated in 1920, with a performance by an Operetta company.
From Trelew it is also possible to visit the Punta Tombo Penguin Rookery, that lies very close by; the nearby village of Gaiman, and the Bryn Gwyn petrified forest (translated from the Welsh: White Hill), to the south.
Other points of interest in the city are:
- The Observation Point: it offers a partial view of the city.
- The Municipal Palace and Plaza with its arbor.
- The Egidio Feruglio Paleontology Museum.
- Lake Chiquichano.
- The Beth-el Chapel.
- The picturesque Hotel Touring Club coffee house, the first of its kind in Patagonia.
HOW DOES ONE GET THERE?
Trelew is 25 kilometers from the mouth of the Chubut river on the Atlantic. It is 1,460 km from the Federal District and 20 km from the provincial capital, Rawson, also 16 km from Gaiman, and 35 km from Dolavon.
It is part of the Northeastern Urban System (SUNE), together with Rawson, Puerto Madryn, Gaiman and other smaller places. It is the province's second city in population size and social and economic development. It has 87.000 inhabitants.
To get there one simply takes National Route Nº 3 in Puerto Madryn. Some 63 kilometers later and after admiring the beautiful valley view, one gets to a crossroads, where one turns right for Trelew.
As it is located in the lower Chubut river valley, Trelew possesses a temperate and dry climate that is periodically whipped by south winds.
During winter months, temperatures vary between 0°Celsius and 15°C, with thermal "sensation" varying from -3°Celsius to 12°C. You should take warm clothes when visiting at this time of year.
In spring and fall, temperatures vary between 10° and 20°Celsius.
In summer, temperatures reach 38°C. It is a good idea to take your bathing costume, sunscreen and warm clothes for the evening with you, because temperatures tend to fall.