Chile: We find America in Santiago…


On our 5th and final day in Santiago we’d planned on driving a rental car to explore the Andes but plans were scraped when we could not find the rental place.  No car; no trip!    So we ventured into El Barrio El Golf –  a neighborhood located in the municipality of Las Condes.  It’s an affluent & elegant area of 2.75 sq km established in 1937 which was planned & designed as a residential area with public space but which has since expanded to attract commercial development and is also home to the American embassy which looks rather bunker-like….    IMG_6843And a lot more of America…

There were some interesting art installations:

And … some impressive modern buildings

After spending all that time in beautiful old buildings I’m not sure I liked many of these – though I was impressed by the “green”  building which is an Intercontinental Hotel:

And we did the very American thing of spending some time in the food court of a giant shopping mall!   Actually this was a licensed area so I left the manservant here while I went off to buy that scarf  …  IMG_6886Then it was back to our hotel which shared the street with the murder squad… IMG_2090aOur room had a large living area with a huge window   IMG_1583

And a view straight to the Andes…..



Chile: Museo Historico Nacional

By now you must think we spent 5 weeks in Santiago rather than 5 days!

Last thing on the 4th day was a visit to the Museo Historico Nacional which is housed in the Palacio de la Real Audiencia – a Neoclassical style palace built 1804-07,  former colonial government headquarters and first Government Palace.

Off the courtyard are galleries covering Chile’s first inhabitants (33,000 years ago in Monte Verde) and showed the diverse native cultures living in the country before the Spaniards arrived as well as then covering the arrival of the Spaniards, the conquest of Chile and the Colonial period 17-18th centuries.

Upstairs you’re greeted by a giant painting by Pedro Lira – The Foundation of Santiago (1888) before entering a maze of rooms taking you through the 18th Century society,  the collapse of the Empire,  Independence,  and consolidation of the Republic. Displays also cover Chile’s steady economic development like the railways from 1850’s and the nitrates industry from 1860’s and State-promoted Education.

The 20th century galleries cover 1937 – 1973 and begin with the presidency of Arturo Allessandri,  go through the consequences of the 1939 earthquake (8.3 magnitude killing 28,000), display an embalmed dog from 1941 and cover Allende’s period in power.    The museum ends with the remaining half of Allende’s glasses which were discovered in the rubble of La Moneda after the 1973 coup!!

Exhibits include:  “La Beneficencia” by Gregorio Torres Parada 1847 IMG_6731aAnd:

The Chilean flag –  this is the flag that was used to swear the Declaration of Independence 12 February 1818.  The flag was protected by various hereditary institutions until it was stolen by the Revolutionary Left Movement in 1980 and only returned in late 2003. We were talking about this when a guide suddenly appeared to tell us the history…. ….   the flag is known in Spanish as La Estrella Solitaria  (the Lone Star).   I don’t remember what he told us about the circle in the middle, which does not appear on the Chilean flag of today, but the star represents progress and honor.  The blue square represents the sky & Pacific Ocean, the white strip represents the snow-covered Andes and the red symbolizes the blood spilt fighting for independence.


The guide then escorted us through the rest of the museum.   His English was excellent and he did a great job as docent –  and was happy to pose after we’d tipped him…   IMG_6743This museum had *the* best brochure!    Full descriptions of each room with a bit of history as well as photos –  especially helpful as we were not supposed to be taking photos ourselves.


Chile: Museo Colonial de San Francisco

Attached to the church is the convent which now houses a collection of colonial art as the Museo Colonial de San Francisco.  IMG_6539

There were gorgeous peacocks in the grounds ….    IMG_6550a.IMG_6546

Sign above one of the doorways: IMG_6540

On display are figurines, dolls, silverware, paintings, tapestries and furniture along with altar pieces and religious art.  There are also religious artifacts such as whips, rods and spiked metal “cilices”  used by the Franciscan monks. (I Google so you don’t have to… cilice: a hairshirt worn to induce discomfort or pain as a sign of repentance and atonement.).

There’s also a medical book dated 1759 which gives graphic instructions on how to amputate an arm!

There are 42 paintings of the Cuzco style representing the life of Saint Francis Assisi dating back to the latter years of 1700.  (I Google again:  Cusqueña paintings are characterized by their use of exclusively religious subjects, their lack of perspective & predominance of red, yellow and earth colors. They are also remarkable for their lavish use of gold leaf).

In most of the rooms there was no photography allowed but I took a few when permitted.  This is a Genealogical tree of the Franciscan order painted in 1723.   The painting is by Juan Espinosa de los Monteros and is believed to have been used to teach the history of the Order.   It shows general information about the Order including its foundation, and general rules.  There are also branches of cardinals, pontiffs, popes, kings, queens and nobles who were members of the order with their names and coat of arms.   The work is crowned by a depiction of the Immaculate Conception.    IMG_6556a

A couple of the artwork:


A piece that appealed to me: IMG_6557a

A typical “cell” of a monk IMG_6558

And a room dedicated to Nobel Laureate Gabriela Mistral including her Nobel Medal!     IMG_6559


Chile: Iglesia de San Francisco


From the library we crossed over the road to the Iglesia de San Francisco  a Franciscan church which was consecrated in 1622 and is perhaps the oldest colonial-era building in Chile.   The side facing Libertador Bernardo O’Higgins Avenue street is graffitied:

The entrance is on the side: IMG_6504This shot was taken later on a  night time stroll:   IMG_2413aThe Order of St. Francis settled in Santiago soon after the first colonizers in 1554 and were entrusted with sheltering the Virgen del Socorro, (Our Lady of Perpetual Relief/Helpthe first Virgin Mary icon brought to Chile by Pedro de Valdivia, the conquistador of Chile, who believed it would protect him from Native attacks.   They built a little chapel which was destroyed by earthquake (apparently without damage to the Virgin Mary) and the present-day church was built between 1586 and 1618.

Today that Virgin Mary sits in the high altar.

Basically since the time of building the only modifications done to the church have been to reinforce the structure each time an earthquake has affected it.   ….  With the exception of the bell tower!

The bell tower was destroyed by an earthquake in 1647 and in 1730 the rebuilt tower was damaged in another earthquake. A third tower was built but it too was damaged by earthquake and demolished in 1854.  The current bell tower was completed in 1857  – designed by architect Fermin Vivaceta it features a clock of four spheres.

The organ was installed in 1857..


The pulpito is amazing:

Now for a few of the technical details: Originally the church was built on a cross-shape plan with large stone blocks.  Sometime in the late 1700’s lateral naves were erected changing the cross-like shape to a rectangular shape.  The roof is clay tiles over a wood structure.    The decorated stuccoed ceiling of the nave was done in 1615 and is of Mudejar style.   The door connecting the sacristy with the cloister consists of three panes of carved cypress wood covering a space of 5 x 3 metres.  The choir stalls are also of cypress.  The cloisters walls are made of adobe and the Tuscan-style columns are brick.   There are screens of mahogany and an amazing coffered ceiling (cypress) detailed with flower motives.


Chile: Biblioteca Nacional


Santiago Day 4:   Started the day with a bit more culture..  at the Biblioteca Nacional one of the oldest institutions in Chile.IMG_1798 In August 1813 it was announced that a library would be established and citizens were invited to submit their books.  In 1820 a law was passed requiring all printers to  provide a copy of every book, magazine or newspaper published.  The regulation was updated in 1834 to the Law of Literary Property.

Construction of the current building started in 1913 and was completed in 1925.   It is French neoclassical style and the interior is gorgeously embellished and decorated with carved marble staircases, lovely leadlight glass, sculptures and paintings:.

There were two exhibitions happening in the grand hall.   One displayed artworks made from old library cards like this piece: IMG_6467a

and a large exhibition called: The Memory that Unites Us: An invitation to reconstruct the history of the National Library of Chile. It was set up on wooden grids to give the impression of an unfinished building and is meant to portray that the history of Chile continues to happen every day and is opened ended.  The exhibition examines the evolution of the country and the institution through publications and materials from the library’s own collection. .

The American room was stunning.   The library collection of famous bibliophile José Toribio Medina was donated to the National Library.  There are 33,000 titles including rare nautical, geographical and demographic books of discovery, dictionaries of indigenous languages as well as important historiographical, literary and scientific texts and they are all housed in this beautiful room..


The library also holds sets of works, manuscripts, photographs, unpublished works, personal belongings and sound recordings of Chilean writers including Pablo Neruda, Gabriela Mistral, Vicente Huidobro and Joaquin Edwards Bello.  The library has an Oral Archive of Literature and Folklore of Chilean popular culture; songs, poetry, stories, folk religion, customs, cuisine and medicine.

I would’ve loved to have explored the library more as there were nooks & crannies we did not get to but it was time to head off to the next thing on my list.   We stopped to admire the statue of Diego Barros Arana (1830-1907) on the way past.  A writer, historian and politician he is considered by some to be the most important Chilean historian.  His main work is a 15 volume work spanning 300 years of Chilean history called:  Historia Jeneral de Chile.    IMG_6495




Chile: Museo de Bellas Artes…


We finished our third day in Santiago with some fine art at the Museo de Bellas Artes – the oldest art museum in Latin America.  The museum was officially founded on September 18, 1880, and originally named Museo National de Pinturas.  In 1901 the government announced it would build a new building for the museum and the Museo de Bellas Artes was inaugurated in September 1910 as part of the celebrations commemorating the first centennial of the independence of Chile.  Out of all the photos I took there is not one of that relief above the door!

IMG_1968The central entrance is an enlarged version of Borromini’s false-perspective window (in the Palazzo Barberini, Rome).  It encloses a pedimented doorway surrounded entirely by glass.  The facade and internal layout are modeled after the Petit Palais, Paris.    Come on in…   IMG_1971.IMG_2010The glass cupola over the central hall was designed & manufactured in Belgium and shipped to Chile in 1907. The approximate weight of the cupola “armour”  is 115,000kg, and the glass weighs about 2,400kg.  It doesn’t seem that it would be an easy thing to ship (unlike the collapsible Museo Artequin we’d seen earlier in the day)

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Above the balcony from the second floor there is a high-relief carving which depicts two angels supporting a shield.  They are in a semivault above the heads of two Caryatids that arise from the balcony.  Caryatid is a fancy name for a sculpted female used in place of a column as an architectural support.


These were my favourite artworks on display:

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The museum is located in a riverside park called Parque Forestal (Forest Park); it’s the perfect setting for fine art.  We’d had such a big day I think if we’d sat down here we’d have dozed off.



Chile: Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanrios…


We’ve been back from Chile 2 months and I’m still only up to day 3 in Santiago on here!

After leaving the Artequin our next destination was to be the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanrios.  We strolled along Av Portales past the Dirección Meteorológica de Chile which is not slanted as my photo suggests…  IMG_1901aThe building was completed in 1857 specifically to house astronomical and meteorological records and instruments.   By Supreme Decree No. 714 the Dirección Meteorológica de Chile was established in March 1884 and demanded that meteorological observations were sent daily by telegraph to Santiago.  The National Archive of the Central State Administration is here – an extensive library and archive of materials including lighthouse records from lighthouses along the entire length of Chile as well as the Pacific Islands of Pascua (Easter Is.), Isla San Felix and Juan Fernandez.
IMG_1902aWe wandered a further block along

and then turned left into Avenida Matucana and a few blocks later we arrived at the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos – Museum of Memory and Human Rights established to commemorate the victims of human rights violations during the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet between 1973 and 1990.  IMG_1916In May 2007 then President, Michelle Bachelet, announced the construction of a museum of memory, and a competition to select the architect for the project.  The winning group was a Brazilian company, Estudio America.  The first stone was laid by Bachelet in December 2008 and the museum was inaugurated by Bachelet on January 11, 2010.   A lot of the grid of the building is made from copper and coal and the use of glass is to signify transparency.

The Plaza of Memory had an exhibition titled: “Transitions: From Dictatorship to Democracy in Latin America”.      There were no English translations so we were left guessing a few paragraphs…   IMG_1919aThe wall along the esplanade leading into the museum’s lower level –


The museum is divided into 11 Sections –  the first section is titled “Human rights; Universal Challenge”  and displays a large world map constructed of photos showing human rights violations across the globe – a trail of war, genocide, torture and executions.

Section 2 is “September 11”  (1973)  which marks the beginning of the military dictatorship.   There are screens with sound and film of the moment of the coup including the bombing of the Palacio de La Moneda.

The most emotive and dramatic display is  Section 8 titled “Absence and Memory” a 3-storey wall of photos of victims and the “disappeared” – a living velatón (tribute).  There are candles amongst the display which are said to be reminiscent of “velatones”  placed in the gutters during protests and which were placed at detention centres and locations where tortures took place.  There are touch screens in-front of the wall which allow navigation through pages dedicated to each victim.

The last two sections are called “Return to Hope” which documents the rise of resistance against the regime and the 1988 national referendum that ended the dictatorship;  and Section 11:  “Nevermore”   which features a giant photo of President Patricio Aylwin taking office in March 1990.

The entire museum was incredibly powerful even without many tags in English (something they are working on).  You can not leave here without reflecting on the value of freedom.

Across the street is the metro station with busts of Gabriela Mistral (1889-1957) Chilean poet, educator, diplomat and feminist – the first Latin American to win the Nobel Prize in Literature (1945).  Mistral was the pseudonym of Lucila Godoy Alcayaga.  Her portrait appears on the 5,000 Chilean peso note.

IMG_1929aand Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) the pen name,  later legal name, of  Chilean poet, diplomat and politician Neftali Ricardo Reyes Basoalto who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971.   Neruda was hospitalized with cancer at the time of the Chilean coup d’etat .  He died on 23rd September 1973 and Pinochet denied permission for the funeral to be a public event.  Thousands of Chileans disobeyed the curfew and crowded the streets.   IMG_1928a

The busts sit in-front of a wonderfully bright mural IMG_1926..IMG_1930


Chile: Parque Quinta Normal & Museo Artequin

Okay holidays are over –  it’s back to Chile posts..    On our 3rd day in Santiago we headed off to the Parque Quinta Normal by metro.  The 96 acre (39h) park was initially established as an “acclimatization”  park for imported trees and animal breeding site.  Now it’s a gorgeous park of sweeping lawns and a lagoon.
IMG_1862as well as home to several museums including the Museo Nacional de Historia Natural (Natural History Museum)  IMG_1856 an outdoor Railway museum  (Museo Ferroviario) and the MOD (Contemporary) on the outer edge: IMG_1911
As we walked through the park we were drawn towards an impressive blue building just opposite one of the entrance gates.  It was the Museo Artequin which is in a building first used as the Chilean exhibition hall at the 1889 Parisian Expo.    IMG_1867a
The building was designed by the French architect Henri Picq who won the competition to build a collapsible building of iron, steel and zinc for the Expo. Built by Moisant, Laurent Savey & Co the building consists mostly of glass and riveted steel. It is wireframe (mechano).  (The Eiffel Tower, by architect Gustave Eiffel, was built for the same exhibition using the same materials).  At the Paris exhibition the building was named “The Chilean Pavilion” and demonstrated Chile’s accomplishments in Trade, Education, Agriculture and the Military.
At the conclusion of the expo the Pavilion was taken apart and shipped to Valparaiso and then put on a train to Santiago.   It was reconstructed on its current site in 1894, renamed the Pavillion Paris, and housed the Exhibition of Mining & Metallurgy.  The building became an Aeronautical Museum for the Air Force at some stage before being completely renovated in 1992, including being repainted in its original colours, and reopening as the Museo Artequin.  This is mostly an educational facility for children but adult workshops & classes run by professional artists are also held here.
Copies of famous artwork hang on the walls at child’s height:      IMG_1876
And there are small tables & drawing materials:
IMG_1881The building is 10m x 10m and 10 metres tall (33′) then topped with a large central glazed dome with 4 smaller domes in the corners.  The metal frame/glass panels are collapsible; the interior is decorative plaster and cement fillings.  The perimeter fence on the upper interior level is made of gypsum plaster with sand added.  The coffered panels and decorative motifs are plaster moulded.  (click on photos to see larger size).

Chile: Cerro San Cristobal


Chileans seem to have a “thing” for the Virgin Mary.  We ran across her in many places during our trip;  in churches, in parks and in paddocks in the middle of no-where.  The largest one we saw was 14m (45′) tall sitting on an 8.3m (27′) pedestal and weighing a hefty 36,610kg (80711 lbs) !!    This Blessed lady sits on top of Cerro San Cristobal –  an 880m (2,887′) hill where she can be seen blessing the city from just about every corner of Santiago.  She was made in Paris but I do not know how she was transported to Chile or how & when she was installed at the top of the hill.

Cerro San Cristobal was named after the San Cristobal family which had a quarry on one side of the hill but its original name was “Tupahue”  (Mapudungun for “place of gods”).   The largest green space in Santiago is on Cerro San Cristobal  –  the 722h (1,784 acres) Parque Metropolitano.  Within the Parque is also a Japanese-style garden (Jardin Japones) and two municipal pools – the Piscina Tupahue and Piscina AntilenPiscina Antilén (where you have panoramic views of the city while you swim).

To get to the top of the hill one can either walk (this apparently takes about 90 mins),  cycle, or take the Funicular train which I heard described as being like a very slow roller-coaster.  The funicular started operating on April 25, 1925.  There are two, and one goes up as the other comes down.  The entrance to the station is much fancier than my DC metro!   IMG_6266

I hate rides so I ventured onto this with some trepidation.   The  “cars”   reminded me of coal cars and you just stand in them and hold on:       IMG_6337The funicular climbs 485m  (1,591′) at an incline of 45 degrees at 110m per minute (360′ per minute).    Half way up is the Chilean National Zoo but our funicular did not stop there and actually it looked closed so I’m not sure if that’s an “attraction”  or not –  reviews I read of the zoo were rather harsh though one said it might be the only place you’ll see Chile’s national mascot, the tiny pudú deer. IMG_6272

You “land”  at the summit station which is not really the summit as you have to then climb further to get to the top.   There are great views of Santiago smog at this level and you can just make out the Andes in the background.  IMG_6316.IMG_6276.IMG_6308

There is another “level” with Santuario de la Inmaculada Concepción del Cerro San Cristóbal  (the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception)

and various other religious things:   .

Then you climb a bit further towards Mary:   IMG_6288And a bit further still …..   IMG_6324  Inside the pedestal section there is a small chapel where John Paul II prayed & blessed Santiago on 1st April 1987  and the open air amphitheatre is used for Masses and ceremonies.IMG_6304.

IMG_6325aOn the way back down I noticed a sign on the funicular car which says (according to Google translator):  “In the car, on April 1, 1987, rose to the feet of the Virgin Mary Mother of God and Our Sea, His Holiness John Paul II, to give, from the sanctuary, his apostolic blessing to Santiago and throughout Chile, in his pastoral visit by the country ”   IMG_6269aIt had been a long day for us starting with the Cementerio General de Santiago  so once we left the Virgin we felt we deserved a late afternoon drink  –  a Chilean white wine for me and pisco sour for the manservant:  IMG_6392


Chile: The Palace and a bit of African culture


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.

There is a changing of the guard ceremony at 10am on odd-numbered days.  (I wonder if the dog takes part).   


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.

In the square now is a statue of Allende: IMG_6133a

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.