After the cemetery we headed downtown to the Palacio de la Moneda. The neoclassical style building was designed by Italian architect Joaquin Toesca and originally built to house the mint (moneda = currency/coin). Construction began in 1784 and the mint opened in 1805. In 1846 the building became the national headquarters of the government and residence of the president.
We weren’t aware of it but you can tour the building. You have to book it at least 10 days in advance and if I ever make it back to Santiago I’ll definitely do that.
The north facade of the palace was badly damaged on September 11, 1973 when the Chilean Air Force dropped missiles on it at the request of the army during the military coup, when President Salvador Allende refused to leave. The palace was restored between 1973-1980 and completed by March 1981 – though it is said that some bullet marks have been preserved! It is also said that a “bunker” was built under the front square to provide an escape for then-President General Pinochet.
To celebrate the bicentenary of Chile’s independence, a new public square called the Plaza de la Ciudadania was constructed on the south side of the palace. The plaza was inaugurated in December 2005. It was designed by Undurraga Deves Arquitectos and paths lead down from the plaza to the underground Palacio de La Moneda Cultural Center which opened in 2006 in the Palace’s basement. This is a huge art space with exhibition halls, a media library and a cinema as well as some shops & a cafe. We saw an exhibit of African figures and masks. The program was written in Spanish but most of the curator notes beside the exhibits had an English translation. The exhibition was split into 2 sections; one showing art as power and the other showing artistic representations of the human figure as it reflects society and behaviour. There were 180 pieces covering 4 centuries on display but no photos were allowed. It was a bit strange to go to Chile & see an African exhibition but it was a great venue and we both thought the exhibition was really good.