A Memorable Tour of the Palace of La Moneda
SANTIAGO — Visiting historical monuments in person after having studied them in class has been a rewarding part of studying abroad in Santiago. I certainly wanted to seize the opportunity to learn all I could about the Palace of La Moneda during our tour this morning.
From the textbooks I had read, I knew that former President Salvador Allende had committed suicide in La Moneda during the 1973 coup d’état, in which Augusto Pinochet took control as military dictator of the country. I was certainly excited to walk within the Palace where such drastic political change occurred in Chile.
Designed by Italian architect Joaquín Toesca, the gorgeous, white exterior of La Moneda reminded me of the White House in the United States. La Moneda was constructed in 1805 and, unlike the White House, the Chilean palace originally served as a coin factory from 1814 to 1929. In addition, the President does not live in La Moneda.
Since 1929, the President and First Lady have worked in offices on the second floor of the palace but live together in a separate house. The Minister of the Interior, the General Secretariat of the Presidency and the General Secretariat of the Government also occupy La Moneda.
My three favorite parts of our tour were the coins featuring the faces of each president, the courtyards within the palace and the room where governmental officials address the media.
The glass container enclosed coins of each Chilean president, dating back from the Irish-Chilean Bernardo O’Higgins to the first female head of the country, Michelle Bachelet. The tour guide showed me a small spot in the container reserved for current President Sebastián Piñera when he finishes his term. Interestingly, no coin of Pinochet exists. Unlike the others, the former military dictator was not elected democratically.
The courtyards within the palace were memorable, especially the Canelo Patio. In 2002, to commemorate the ninth anniversary of the Indigenous Law, in which Indigenous groups like the Mapuche achieved more equitable human rights, a camelo tree had been planted in the center of the courtyard. The canelo tree is recognized as the sacred tree of the Mapuche people. In addition to its historical significance, tea ground from canelo leaves can cure stomach illnesses.
Finally, I enjoyed the Presidential media room. Though a portrait of President Manuel Montt Torres and a 100 year-old silver lamp were the only historically old artifacts, I will remember the room for its standard brown podium. I stood behind the same podium that the President uses when addressing the media! It was certainly an empowering, though fleeting, experience.
As a slight downside, our tour guide showed us neither the President’s nor the First Lady’s office. However, this Sunday, May 27, all public sites will be opened in Santiago, including La Moneda. From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., you may enter the courtyards of the Palace on your own.
If you arrive early enough, you might even get the chance to see the President’s office.