Museo Histórico Nacional (Palacio de la Real Audiencia)
After 1609, the Real Audiencia housed Chile’s colonial supreme court, but earthquakes destroyed its quarters in both 1647 and 1730. Architect Juan José de Goycolea y Zañartu designed the current neoclassical building (1808), but its clock tower dates from Mayor Benjamín Vicuña Mackenna’s late-19th-century term.
Three years later, during the independence struggle, the first Congreso Nacional met here, but royalists restored the Real Audiencia from 1814 to 1817. After the battle of Chacabuco that same year, the Cabildo of Santiago met here to make Argentine general José de San Martín head of state, but San Martín declined in favor of Bernardo O’Higgins. After President Manuel Bulnes moved government offices to the Casa de la Moneda, the building became municipal offices and then a museum.
Following a professional makeover, this once moribund museum (Plaza de Armas 951, tel. 02/6330462, bdevose [at] dibam [dot] cl) now deserves a visit. Thematically, its collections encompass Mapuche silverwork, colonial and republican furniture and art, material folklore, textiles, weapons, and photography. Chronologically, it traces Chile’s development from indigenous times through Spanish colonial rule, the subsequent establishment of church and state, collapse of the Spanish empire, the early republic and its 19th-century expansion, the oligarchy that ruled parliament, and the failed reforms that resulted in the 1973 coup—when the story abruptly ends.
Also hosting occasional special exhibits, the museo is open 10 a.m.–6 p.m. daily except Monday; admission costs US$1 except on Sunday, when it’s free.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Chile, 2nd edition