From heroes to literary legends
By Meera Bhardwaj
22nd November 2012 10:22 AM
A nation wrecked by political turmoil for a long time but when I visited, it was a fledgling democracy and completely overcast by the shadow of the notorious rule and trial of military dictator General Augusto Pinochet.
However, it was extremely surprising as many locals did not have a low opinion of Pinochet.
In fact, his despotic rule had many supporters and we had to be careful while raising this topic.
Relatively free of the coups and arbitrary governments that haunts many countries in South America, Chile has withstood the 17-year-military dictatorship of Pinochet from 1973 to 1990 that left thousands of people dead or untraceable.
His trial that went on for years where he was indicted for human rights violation and embezzlement of funds is considered a watershed in judicial history and even compared to the Nuremberg trials.
Historical monuments, statues, sculptures, memorials and murals can be found in abundance in this country especially Santiago, marking the reign of conquistadors to freedom heroes to literary legends.
The memorials of General Bernardo O’ Higgins, Pablo Neruda and Gabriela Mistral usually attracts a lot of tourists.
Revered as the liberator of Chile, O’Higgins was born in obscurity but rose in military ranks and political stature during the war of independence.
Although he died in Peru, his remains were returned to Chile which was interred with great pomp and show under the Altar de la Patria with an everlasting flame at the Plaza Bulinas in Santiago.
Only a few historical buildings from the Spanish colonial period remain in the city as Chile including Santiago is regularly prone to earthquakes.
The existing ones include the Casa Colorada, the San Francisco Church, and Posada del Corregidor.
The Cathedral on the Central Square is a sight that ranks as high as the Palacio de La Moneda, the Presidential Palace.
The seat of the President of Republic of Chile, the Palacio de La Moneda is a colonial structure occupying an entire block in downtown Santiago.
In front of this imposing government and presidential residence is the beautiful Constitution Square, Plaza de La Constitucion.
The city has a plethora of charming and attractive squares like the Citizen’s Square and the Culture Square too.
La Moneda, the ornate, neo-classical building, designed by an Italian architect, Joaquín Toesca in the late 18th century was originally a colonial mint (moneda meaning coin).
The production of coins in Chile took place at La Moneda from 1814 to 1929.
During the military coup d’ état on September 11, 1973, the north façade of the palace was partially destroyed by aerial bombing by the Chilean military forces.
During this period, the then Socialist President Salvador Allende rejected the military’s ultimatum for him to step down.
It is reported that Allende actually killed himself in the palace as it was under assault by the armed forces.
However, experts opine it is questionable whether this actually happened.
Chile has also exhumed the remains of former President Allende so as to resolve the issue whether he killed himself or not.
The restoration of the palace was carried out in 1981.
But even today, some bullet marks can be seen that have been preserved for posterity.
During the restoration period, a kind of bunker or one can say an underground office complex was built under the front square, to provide a safe escape route for the then President General Augusto Pinochet in case of an attack.
Located between the palace and the Alameda, the Moneda has another impressive addition, the subterranean Centro Cultural Palacio La Moneda.
While walking in the corridors of the palace, it is better to wear footwear with rubber soles as the flooring is entirely glassy wooden tiles.
A monument honouring Allende now stands opposite the Plaza de la Constitución.
Tall, imposing and shiny-booted carabineros (Chilean Police) stamp through a brief changingof- the-guard ceremony every other day at 10 am.
This ceremony is very similar to east European military ceremonies and attracts lot of visitors.
The city with its scenic mountain ranges gives a majestic look to the verdant valley that is also connected by cable car.
One is taken aback at its majesticity as the Andes mountains around Santiago are quite tall; the tallest is the Tupungato volcano at 21,555 ft.
Other volcanoes include Tupungatito, San José, and Maipo.
Cerro El Plomo is the highest mountain visible from Santiago’s sprawling urban areas.
Apart from historical monuments you can find well laid out parks and gardens in the central and northern parts of the city.
The main parks are at : the San Cristóbal Hill, which includes the Santiago Metropolitan Park Zoo, the O’Higgins Park and of course, the Forestal Park and another verdant park located at the city centre alongside River Mapocho.
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