Exploring Historic Santiago, Chile

Reader Contribution by Marilyn Jones
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I wake to rain pelting the windows. My plans for the day are to explore the heart of Santiago and a little — or a lot — of rain isn’t going to stop me.

Juggling an umbrella, camera and tote bag, I start out by exploring the quiet streets in a neighborhood just outside downtown. Many of the palatial mansions, from the turn-of-the-last century, house accommodations and restaurants.

I head for the Santa Lucia Hill. The hill was held by the indigenous Incas until it was captured by Spanish conquistador Pedro de Valdivia on December 13, 1541 — Santa Lucia Day. Today the hill is a beautiful park commemorating the founding of Santiago. The fountains, statues and staircase leading up to a fort built in 1840 are additions made by Benjamin Vicuna Mackenna. The writer, journalist, historian and politician spearheaded change and improvement in the city in the late 1800s.

I make a brief visit to the National Library of Chile. Built in 1913, it is ornately decorated with stained glass, chandeliers, pillars and carved wood trim.

San Francisco Church dating to 1622, the oldest colonial-era building in Chile is close by. Pulling open a massive wooden door, I am immediately immersed in the warmly lit Franciscan sanctuary.

Next door is the church convent that now houses a museum exploring the colonial period of Chile and South America. Collections include paintings, sculptures and furnishings.

La Moneda Palace

Although tours are not available, I wander past several century-old government buildings including La Moneda Palace, the current seat of government. It was built in the late 1800s. In 2010, to celebrate the bicentennial of Chile’s independence from Spain, a public square was completed beside it.

Paths leading down from the plaza offer access to the underground Palacio de La Moneda Cultural Center, which features Chilean art and history exhibits. If you want to shop in a quiet location, the cultural center is a great place to browse for affordably-priced Chilean-made crafts, artwork and textiles.

In the pelting rain I dash past the Plaza de Armas, the centerpiece of the initial layout of Santiago, toward Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago and its shelter. Serving as the seat of Santiago’s archbishop, it was built in the late 1700s and is filled with amazing artifacts including a silver alter. I wander through its solitude and beauty as thunder rumbles overhead.

When the storm subsides I walk to the 1872 Central Market for a late lunch. Past vendors selling fresh seafood of every description including mackerel, salmon, merluza, swordfish and pescada, I look for a place to eat.

Originally built for national art exhibits, the market now houses more than 70 restaurants serving fish and seafood. I choose El Galeon where I enjoy reineta, salmon and Northern Chilean mango.  

It’s a long walk back, so I set out after lunch. The rain has stopped and the sun is shining. I take my time to savor the beauty and charm of Chile’s capital city. I see a lot on my first day and grow appreciative of the city’s charm.

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