Plaza de Armas
Originally platted by Pedro de Valdivia’s surveyor, Pedro de Gamboa, the colonial Plaza de Armas is the center of a zona típica national monument. Until 1821, when the central market moved north to the Mapocho’s banks, it was also the city’s commercial center.
On its west side, the plaza’s oldest surviving landmark is the Catedral Metropolitana, begun in 1748 but, because of setbacks including earthquakes and fires, not completed until 1830. Italian architect Joaquín Toesca designed its neoclassical facade, since modified with late-19th-century Tuscan touches.
On the north side, the next oldest structure is the Municipalidad de Santiago (1785). Immediately west, the Palacio de la Real Audiencia (1804) houses the Museo Histórico Nacional; at the corner of Paseo Puente, the Francophile Correo Central (Post Office, 1882) replaced the original colonial government house.
Commerce monopolized the plaza’s south side; after the central market moved, the handsome 19th-century arcade known as the Portal Fernández Concha replaced it, though its current hot dog and sandwich stands make it a less prestigious address than it once was. Half a block east, dating from 1769, the Casa Colorada (Merced 860) houses the municipal tourist office and the city museum. Another block-plus east, the national monument Iglesia de la Merced (Merced and MacIver) dates from 1795; housing an assortment of ecclesiastical art, its adjacent Museo de la Merced (MacIver 341, tel. 02/6649189, www.museolamerced.cl) is open 10 a.m.–6 p.m. Tuesday–Saturday, 10 a.m.–2 p.m. Sunday. Admission costs US$1.80.
One block west of the plaza, occupying an entire block bounded by Bandera, Catedral, Morandé, and Compañía, Chile’s legislature occupied the former Congreso de la República until the 1973 coup. The building suffered a whole series of setbacks, however, from its inception under President Manuel Montt in the 1850s: death of an architect, shortages of funds, and a fire that destroyed the adjacent Jesuit church (today the building’s gardens). Finally finished in 1876, a great part of it was destroyed by fire in 1895; by 1901, it was rebuilt and reinaugurated in its present neoclassical style. After the 1973 coup, it suffered earthquake damage in 1985, but it has since had a seismic upgrade; until recently, the Foreign Ministry occupied the building.
Immediately north of the ex-Congreso, the Foreign Ministry trains both Chilean and foreign diplomats at its Academia Diplomática (Diplomatic Academy, Catedral 1183) in the renaissance-style Palacio Edwards (1888). Designed by architect Juan Eduardo Feherman for Anglo-Chilean banker and publisher Agustín Edwards, who died the year after its completion, it passed through several heirs, a real estate agency, and a political party before its acquisition by the state, which restored it in the late 1960s.
One block from the plaza’s southwest corner, the Palacio de la Real Aduana (Royal Customs House, Bandera 361) now accommodates the exceptional Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino (Chilean Museum of Pre-Columbian Art). Immediately across the street and south of the former Congreso, but facing Compañía, stand the neoclassical Tribunales de Justicia (Law Courts, 1912–1930). Another block west, at Compañía 1340, Chañarcillo mining tycoon Francisco Ignacio Ossa Mercado inhabited the Palacio La Alhambra (1862), a Moorish-style structure that now serves as an art gallery and cultural center.
Half a block north of the plaza, on Paseo Puente, the French-style Cuerpo de Bomberos (completed in 1893) bears a broad resemblance to the post office. One block north of the plaza, built of massive blocks, the Templo de Santo Domingo (begun in 1747, but not finished until 1808) stands at 21 de Mayo and Monjitas; two blocks north, on a lot once known as the “Dominicans’ trash dump,” stands the Mercado Central, the landmark central market that’s also a major tourist draw for its seafood restaurants.
From 1913 until 1987, trains to Valparaíso, northern Chile, and Mendoza (Argentina) used Eiffel-influenced architect Emilio Jecquier’s monumental Estación Mapocho; closed in 1987 and reopened as a cultural center, it hosts events like Santiago’s annual book fair. In the nearby Cal y Canto Metro station, excavations have exposed to view parts of the foundations of the colonial Puente Cal y Canto bridge over the Mapocho.
Northeast of the Templo de Santo Domingo stand two remaining colonial residences. The mid-18th-century Posada del Corregidor (Esmeralda 749) is an adobe structure with colonial features such as a corner pillar and balconies but no interior patios. Despite its name, no Spanish colonial official ever worked or lived within; for nearly a century after 1830, it went by the ironic nickname “Filarmónica” because of the dance hall that operated within its walls. At Santo Domingo and MacIver stands the Casa Manso de Velasco (1730), named for José Manso de Velasco, governor of Chile (1737–1744) and later viceroy of Peru.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Chile, 2nd edition