In a development that infuriated Pinochet diehards, a dignified statue of former president Salvador Allende overlooks the plaza’s southeast corner, with a plaque inscribed with words from his last radio address: “I have faith in Chile and her destiny,” September 11, 1973.
On the west side of the plaza, the sturdily elegant doors of the Ministerio de Hacienda (Teatinos 120), built in 1933, seemingly signify the solidity of the Chilean treasury; immediately to its north, the former Hotel Carrera now houses the Cancillería (Foreign Ministry). The headquarters of Codelco (Paseo Huérfanos 1276), arguably the government’s single most influential agency for its control of the copper industry, are located at the plaza.
The Intendencia de Santiago (Moneda and Morandé), built in 1914–1916, features a spectacular cupola. Today, ironically enough, it houses regional government offices in a building that once headquartered El Diario Ilustrado, a newspaper founded by the Partido Conservador (Conservative Party) and a persistent critic of various administrations to occupy the Moneda.
One block east of the plaza, Augustine nuns owned the entire block bounded by Bandera, Ahumada, Moneda, and Alameda until the early 20th century, when they subdivided some of Santiago’s most valuable real estate. Mammon supplanted Jehovah with French architect Emilio Jecquier’s flatiron Bolsa de Comercio (La Bolsa 84), begun in 1914 but delayed when World War I disrupted the arrival of materials from New York. Immediately south, reached by a cobbled Y-patterned passageway but fronting on the Alameda, the members-only Club de la Unión (1925) gave stockbrokers a place to schmooze on their lunch hours.
Immediately south of the Moneda, a new cultural center lies beneath the fountains of the Plaza de la Ciudadanía (Citizens’ Plaza), dedicated by outgoing president Ricardo Lagos in 2006. Across the Alameda, General Pinochet had once placed the sepulcher of Chilean liberator General Bernardo O’Higgins beneath an eternal natural gas flame at the so-called “Altar de la Patria” at Plaza Bulnes, where Lagos opened a new mausoleum to reclaim O’Higgins’s legacy from the dictatorship. One block west, dating from 1976, the 128-meter Torre Entel communications tower (Alameda and Amunátegui) resembles London’s Post Office Tower.
Palacio de la Moneda
Never intended as the seat of government, the neoclassical Moneda (entrance on Plaza de la Constitución, tel. 02/6714103, 10 a.m.–6 p.m. Mon.–Fri., free) became the presidential palace in 1846, when Manuel Bulnes moved his residence and offices to the former colonial mint. It made global headlines in 1973, when the Chilean air force strafed and bombed it in General Pinochet’s coup against President Salvador Allende, who shot himself to death before he could be taken prisoner.
Around 1730, during a deep economic depression, the Cabildo de Santiago requested the Spanish crown to establish a local mint, but it took another half century for Governor Agustín Jáuregui to propose a purpose-built building under the direction of Italian architect Joaquín Toesca. Construction began in 1784; its cement came from Hacienda Polpaico (north of Santiago, still a functioning factory today), sand came from the Río Maipo, colored stone came from a San Cristóbal quarry, and oak and cypress came from Chile’s own Valdivian forests. Details such as forged iron came from Spain. Toesca died six years before the building’s completion in 1805.
Pinochet’s regime restored the building to Toesca’s original design by 1981, but it’s no longer the presidential residence. Shortly after taking office in 2000, President Ricardo Lagos (the first Socialist elected since Allende) opened the main passageway for one-way public traffic from the Plaza de la Constitución entrance to the Plaza de la Ciudadanía exit. The new plantings that have replaced the withered orange trees on its interior Patio de los Naranjos will take a while to mature, but walk-through visitors can still enjoy sculptures such as Roberto Matta’s El Toromiro (named for a tree now extinct on its native Easter Island).
For a more thorough guided tour, contact the Dirección Administrativa del Palacio de la Moneda (Morandé 130, tel. 02/6714103, visitas@ presidencia.cl) at its office beneath Plaza de la Constitución. Normally, arranging a visit takes a couple of days with a written or emailed request.
The Moneda’s most impressive addition is the subterranean Centro Cultural Palacio La Moneda (between the palace and the Alameda), beneath the lawns and reflecting pools of the Plaza de la Ciudadanía, broad pedestrian ramps descend to a luminous subterranean facility with a gigantic atrium flanked by special exhibit galleries and other facilities.
Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Chile.