Since we had only one single day–Sunday–to see the entire central Santiago area and its museums, we were intent on making the most of the day. We wanted to cover as much of the history, the art and the everyday life of the city in the short time we had available.
Our informal walking tour covered most of the historical sections such as the area around the Plaza de Armas, with its massive cathedral and nearby government buildings, such as the Bourse and the Moneda presidential palace.
The city’s history, however, was brought alive–at least as much as it could be to people who cannot read much Spanish, by two of the few museums that we wanted to visit that were open on the only day we could do them. First was the Museum of National History which traced the country’s past from its discovery and colonization through the coup in which Augusto Pinochet overthrew President Salvador Allende and instituted a rein of political terror that is now commemorated around the city, as with sculptures of Allende, exhibits and most recently, a permanent museum.
We saw, for example, a poignant photographic exhibition of Latin American civil wars and dictatorships (with a particular focus on Chile) at GAM, a complex devoted to the arts. Unfortunately, the permanent museum, which we most wanted to see–the Memory and Human Rights Museum which reflects on the violations that occurred during the coup and memorializes the victims–was closed. But one thing is certain: if those who do not remember their history are condemned to relive it, Chile wants to ensure that it will never forget.
This, however, is not to suggest a lack of new and modern buildings in the central city. Although many of the new office towers are being built in the affluent El Golf neighborhood (see our blog on El Golf), the city does have its share.
A Survey of Chilean Art and Culture
One of our must-do art stops was La Chascona, one of the homes of Chilean Nobel Prize winner (literature), diplomat and collector, Pablo Neruda. Although the home itself is interestingly laid out with nice gardens, the highlights are the personal items he collected during his travels, gifts he was given (especially the portrait that Diego Rivera painted of Neruda’s mistress and third wife) and the many items that demonstrated his sense of humor. (His sense of humor, unfortunately, cannot be portrayed in pictures, which are allowed of the grounds, but not inside the buildings).
The Museo Bellas Artesis a beautiful building, its collection of largely Chilean art is much less impressive. The primary exception was a special exhibition on the later art (primarily 1970s) of Chilean painter Roberto Matta, in honor of the 100th anniversary of his birth.
We almost had a chance to see another Matta Centennial exhibition at the Centro Cultural Palaceo de la Moneda, an arts space that houses a broad range of exhibits of visual arts, crafts, paintings and movies. Unfortunately, the Matta exhibition closed a few days before we arrived.
Unfortunately, the Museum of Precolombian Art was closed for renovations and we did not get to the the Museum of Contemporary Art. We did, however, see a few other exhibits, such as and exhibition of Violeta Perra’s work at the Moneda Cultural Palace and an indigenous crafts exhibit at another GAM galley. Telefonicaalso had an exhibit of Picasso prints at their headquarters.
We also took time to see some of the ways in which locals celebrated Sundays–and briefly, Saturday evenings–in central Santiago. Much of the Sunday activity is around the central square, Plaza de Armas and the Paseo Puente pedestrian mall that runs north and south from the plaza. People strolling, shopping, listening to musicians, singers and political activists and even swimming in the Plaza’s fountain.
Other social gathering places included the Mercado Central fish and produce market that was packed with people admiring (and sometimes purchasing) the incredible selection of fresh seafood and vegetables, and especially eating in one of the dozens of the market’s casual seafood restaurants. So,we decided to join then at El Galeon, a seafood restaurant that two locals had recommended. We were, as discussed in our blog on Santiago restaurants,very pleased.
But after all that eating, people also need exercise. Two such venues are the Cerro San Cristobal Metropolitan park, which after a funicular ride up, you can walk trails and go to the zoo. A bit further south, you can climb your own hill–Cerro Santa Lucia, which has sculptures, gardens and view points at each terrace.
There was, however, one other social gathering space in central Santiago that just wouldn’t be the same on Sundays. That is the Bellavista neighborhood, which is filled with vividly painted renovated buildings and murals, pretty streets with wall-to-wall restaurants and bars, especially on Fridays and Saturdays. So, rather than miss the fun, we took a Saturday evening cab ride to the neighborhood.
We began with a quick walk through Bellavista Patio, a touristy renovation reminiscent of San Francisco’s Pier 39, except with more outside restaurant seating areas. These and the retail stalls were attractive, but, like themed retail developments in other cities around the world, pretty sanitized and boring.
The neighborhood streets, especially Constitucion and Pio Nono were much more interesting and fun—historic and colorful buildings, murals, crafts stands, art markets and, on Saturday evening, wall-to-wall bars and restaurants, many of which were filled with young people who were clearly enjoying themselves.
We had planned to eat dinner in the neighborhood before stopping at some of the bars ourselves. We got two recommendations and expected to choose between these, or someplace else that looked interesting. But after visiting and examining the menus of several local restaurants, we decided that we would fare better back on Avenida Nuevo Costanero, our favorite restaurant street. So after a drink, we hopped a cab to La Mer. We are, however, glad that we saw Bellavista on Saturday evening, even though we had to return Sunday morning to tour La Chascona.