One of the most recognizable buildings in Santiago is Palacio de La Moneda. It’s the presidential headquarters of Chile, and was built between 1784-1799 by the Spanish as a mint. It was the actual presidential residence for several years from the mid 19th century until 1958. It served as a mint until 1929. The palace was heavily damaged by the military coup in 1973 when it was bombed by the Chilean Air Force.
I was able to visit La Moneda for a guided tour one morning. Tours can be scheduled by following the instructions on the official government website and sending an email at least one week in advance for a request. There is no cost and tours can be given for individuals or groups, in either Spanish or English.
Taking the metro to the La Moneda stop, I arrived at Palacio de La Moneda at 9:30am for my tour and checked in with security. I was expecting very serious and unfriendly security, but both the palace guards and Carabineros were very friendly and greeted me with smiles. I wasn’t expecting this level of accessibility and courtesy. They scanned my backpack, took my passport, and led me to a waiting room.
I met my guide, Francisco, and we began the tour of the palace in the Patio de los Naranjos, named for the orange trees planted there. In the middle of the patio is a fountain brought from Peru in the 16th century for the purpose of supplying water from the Río Mapocho to citizens. This patio was where the mint stood until it was demolished in 1929.
Next, we visited the Patio de los Cañones, named for two canons made in 1778, Lightning and Fury. The gate on this patio is where the president of Chile and dignitaries enter the palace. The president’s offices also overlook the patio.
A smaller patio, Patio de los Canelos, is surrounded by Mapuche totems and a sacred canelo tree. The Mapuche are an indigenous group native to Chile. This patio is also the part of the palace that sustained most of the damage from bombing during the 1973 military coup. Salvador Allende, president during the coup, committed suicide in one of the rooms overlooking the patio.
In a small room attached to the patio, the presidential coins are on display. Each coin has two sides, one with the face of the president, and the other the seat of government.
After the patios, I was able to see some of the important rooms of the palace. First, we visited Salón O’Higgins. This is where the president greets official guests and ambassadors. It’s named after Bernardo O’Higgins, the founder of independent Chile.
The attached room is a smaller room called Salón Pedro de Valdivia, the official waiting room of the palace. It’s named for the founder of Santiago, Spanish conquistador Pedro de Valdivia.
The final room I was able to visit was Salón Montt-Varas. Press conferences and state dinners are given here. It was named after a president of Chile, Manuel Montt, and important politician Antonio Varas.
When the tour finished, Francisco returned me to the entrance where I was given my passport. The tour gave me a very interesting look into the politics of Chile and it was well worth the time and effort to visit.
After the tour, I explored the area around the palace. Each side of La Moneda has a plaza. On the side of the main entrance is Plaza de la Constitución, with rows of Chilean flags and statues of leaders of Chile. One statue is dedicated to Salvador Allende. On the back entrance is the Plaza de la Ciadudanía with a large fountain and lawn.
The entrance to the Centro Cultural Palacio de La Moneda is at Plaza de la Ciudadanía. It’s a museum that was founded in 2006 in the former basement of La Moneda. Admission is CLP $5,000 for foreigners. There are two galleries with rotating exhibits containing modern art, classical paintings, video installations, and some sculptures. I found one of the exhibits interesting, but the architecture was more interesting than the actual exhibits.
Next to La Moneda is the Cancillería. It’s currently the Ministry of Foreign Relations, but was formerly the Hotel Carrera from 1940-2003. Journalists watched the bombing of La Moneda from here in 1973.