Chile has a rich and complex history since Pre-Columbian times. Following the arrival of the Conquistadores in the 16th century Chile remained a Spanish possession under the authority of Peru until its independence in 1818. Since then it has had a turbulent history of foreign and civil wars ending in the 1990s with the demise of the Pinochet regime.
Santiago was founded by Pedro de Valdivia in 1541 on the site of an Inca settlement. Although the Spanish had reached central Chile by 1537 they had found little of value and so returned north. Valdivia, an Army Captain, gained permission to return to the area to ‘expand the empire’ although our Walking Guide suggested that Valdivia was also just one step ahead of the Spanish Inquisition. Valdivia was married and while his wife was in Spain he had a mistress in Peru and the Inquisition took a dim view of this. When Valdivia set off south there was apparently just one woman with them. Valdivia became the first Govenor of Chile and died fighting the Mapuche in 1553. The Mapuche continued to successfully resist conquest until the 1880s.
Cerro Santa Lucia, Castillo Hidalgo and the Teraza Neptuno.
Santa Lucia hill was captured by Pedro de Valdivia on 13 December 1540, Santa Lucia’s Day, and soon became a religious site and refuge. It was fortified in 1820 with the building of Castillo Hidalgo, apparently two 20 gun batteries, with an arsenal and barracks close by. The Hill and Castle are now surrounded by gardens and the main entrance is via the Terrace and Fountain of Neptune. The views from the top of Castillo Hidalgo are not exactly breath taking but the climb is worth it.
Palacio de la Moneda
Originally the Mint its name translates to Coin Palace and it is the seat of the President. In front is the large, open Plaza de la Constitution and behind it is the City Park, beneath it is a Cultural Centre. You can book tours of the Palacio de la Moneda, but the next available booking was in February! The Cultural centre houses a history museum which primarily covers Spanish and early Chilean history.
The Palace itself was also where the Allende made his last stand against Pinochet’s coup and although the damage has been repaired the statue of Diego Portales opposite still has a bullet hole its head. This is ironic as Portales himself was shot, whilst a prisoner, during one of Chile’s civil wars fought in the 19th century.
Santiago Museum of Contemporary Arts
It is free and if raining provides excellent shelter.
Even if you actually like Contemporary or Modern Art you’d be hard pressed to appreciate some of the stuff here. Rag stuffed glass jars in a circle and piles of old clothes and rolls of corrugated cardboard. On reflection I think the last two were piles of rubbish left over after the place was painted and the ‘exhibits’ were unpacked and in my ignorance I assumed they were modern art, easy to do!
Even though it was free it was a waste of money !! But the building was impressive!
There are many other museums in Santiago and every single one of them more worthy of a visit.
The Museum of Pre-Columbian Art close to the old Congress building is fantastic. There are signs in English and the displays are extensive. Below the Palacio de la Moneda are a pair of displays of Spanish and early Chilean history appearing to focus on Gauchos, Chilean cowboys. The Museum of National History in the City Hall in the Plaza de Armas is more focused on modern history up to the Pinochet regime. The only shame was there were no foreign language translations or audio guides.
San Christóbal Hill
San Christóbal hill, at 860 m above sea level is the highest point in Santiago. At the hill’s summit is a 14 m statue of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception. There is a funicular cable car most of the way up and the views over the city towards the Andes are pretty spectacular. Unfortunately someone had decided to inject some Christmas spirit by the broadcast of really cheesy Christmas Carols! These would have been out of place absolutely anywhere but with such breathtaking views of the snow capped Andes we could have done without it!
We found some really nice restaurants, from the quite basic to haute cuisine. We also found ‘high cuisine’. There is a revolving restaurant called Giratorio which serves really good food with a great ambiance. The restaurant takes 1 hour 20 minutes to complete a full turn which just about enough time to enjoy a leisurely lunch while admiring the views.
Our week in Santiago was a very pleasant surprise if I am honest. It is a cosmopolitan, modern, clean city and not overly expensive, and there is loads to see. There are obviously the less savoury parts of town and on the bus headed for Valparaiso we saw some less picturesque suburbs, but we also passed modern new-build housing estates.
It is impossible to judge a country by two cities, but what we experienced was very pleasant and I would happily return.