Never intended as the seat of government, the neoclassical Moneda 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.
Pinochet’s regime restored the building to Italian architect Joaquín Toesca’s original 1780s design by 1981, but it’s no longer the presidential residence. Shortly after taking office, 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, 10 a.m.–6 p.m. weekdays only.
The new plantings that have replaced the withered orange trees on its interior Patio de los Naranjos will take a while to mature, but visitors on a walk-through can still enjoy sculptures such as Roberto Matta’s El Toromiro (named for a tree now extinct on its native Easter Island ) and Hernán Puelma’s El Astrónomo (The Astronomer).
For a more thorough guided tour, contact the Dirección Administrativa del Palacio de La Moneda (Morandé 130, tel. 02/6714103, visitas [at] presidencia [dot] 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 newest and most impressive addition, new in 2006, 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.