Santiago Sneak Peek: Cerro Santa Lucia
After our time in Patagonia, we’re back in an urban jungle, population over 6 million! Still a bit sleepy from our overnight travel, we spent our first day in Santiago just wandering around. The views from atop Cerro Santa Lucia were grand, and we could just make out the mountains in the distance. It was here where Pedro de Valdivia founded the city of Santiago officially in 1541, and it’s from this moment in history that the hill takes its name. Charles Darwin wrote of the views looking out from this hill in the middle of the city during the time he spent here as well.
The 630 meter/2000+ feet hill is actually what’s left of an ancient volcano. The grassy, well-groomed landscapes that make up the “park” portions of the hill are lovely, and the climb up winding trails and steep stairs eventually leads to the look-out point. These areas seem to be quite popular with young couples. We liked stopping on each terrace to sit and people-watch. Terraza Neptuno (Neptune Terrace) is of the more memorable levels, with a fountain featuring who else but Neptune himself.
Above this, is Terraza Caupolicán. Caupolicán was a famous Mapuche leader, who resisted against the conquistadors when they invaded Chile during the 16th century. There is a sculpture on this terrace with an interesting controversy surrounding it. The sculptor was Nicanor Plaza (1844-1918), a Chilean sculptor revered as a pioneer in Chilean art. It is said that the work may have been originally created and entitled “Last of the Mohicans,” from the historical novel by James Fenimore Cooper. One theory says that when it failed to get a commission after being entered in a competition, Plaza ended up using the design when he was asked to create a sculpture of Caupolicán. For an even more detailed examination of the controversy (for Spanish-speakers) with some great historical photos, see this post on Urbatorium.
In the early 1800s, two forts were built to the north and south of the hill. In 1820, Fort Hidalgo was completed, and Cerro Santa Lucia was used as a point of defense. Check out the fort’s canons at the top of the hill, and the large, Circular Garden at the entrance to the castle. The castle now functions as an event center, and a popular place for (expensive) weddings. During the early 1800s, the other side of Cerro Santa Lucia was used as a cemetery of sorts for “dissidents” who didn’t follow the Catholic ideology. In 1874 a simple monument was placed here “En memoria a los expatriados del cielo y la tierra que en este sitio yacieron sepultados durante medio siglo”. (In memory of those exiled from heaven and earth and who lay buried in this place during the half -century . . .)
Cerro Santa Lucia Renovation
Later, in 1872, Benjamin Vicuña Mackenna spearheaded an extensive remodeling of the hill. This included a road that crosses the hill and leads to a chapel he built. Construction projects also included fountains, plazas and gazebos, along with trees, vegetation and green spaces. Mackenna’s massive, iconic yellow building with curved staircases is a centerpiece of the hill. Mackenna is buried here as well.
Cerro Santa Lucia was declared a national monument on 16 December 1983.
Our walk in this area of the city also took us through an artisans’ market (Centro Artesanal de Santa Lucía, across the avenue from Cerro de Santa Lucia) and past lots of cafes, restaurants and Forestal Park, which runs along the Mapocho River.
Click here for more photos