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Cerro Santa Lucia: Santiago's Steep Surprise


Where Gumbo Was #199

The picture below tells you how much of a surprise Santiago, Chile's Cerro Santa Lucia is: a sudden steep hill, surmounted by monumental buildings, set right up to downtown blocks in a bustling and mostly flat city. It's a popular park, almost out of sight.


It's also a bit of a chameleon: approaching its heights on foot through its nearly-mysterious side entrances, we managed to get to today's reveal with only one correct solution—despite its having been the subject of Where in the World #166 last spring. A tip of the traveling hat to George G

DSC01659DSC01657There are formal entrances, to be sure, such as the ones above from the Alameda, as locals call the wide Avenida Libertador General Bernardo O'Higgins. At the other end, less formal stairways suffice, and for those who are stairway-adverse, there's an elevator. Which was out of service, but led us to our eventual way to the top.


That's the elevator tower on the right, and the bridge connecting it to the upper level of the park. One of our guidebooks calls its operation "intermittent."


But the lack of elevator was actually a blessing in disguse; if it had worked I would have missed the opportunity to wander through a part of the park whose clearly intentional informality has been enhanced by enough years of poor maintenance to allow the feeling of discovering ancient ruins in a distant jungle.


Here and there, a few more hints of recent times, but with no sight of the city to spoil the illusion of solitude.


And finally, a long stairway to the top, where we find a world of urban park fixtures and buildings, many of them reflecting different eras of the park's history.


Cerro Santa Lucia began its modern history early in the history of Spanish colonization of what is now Chile, and for the obvious purpose: the view was not only scenic, it gave great views of any approaching enemy. There was a military post on the 200-foot hill as early as the 1540s.


Just before Chile's revolt against Spanish rule, Spain's army engineers built two forts on the hill, one facing north, the other south. The northern fort, Fort Hidalgo, is restored and is a popular platform for sightseers (below). The hilltop was also used as a cemetery for non-Catholics.


But the big change for Cerro Santa Lucia came in the 1870s when Santiago was growing, and its elite were prospering from shipping, mining and other industries. It was an era of civic embellishment, and of copying European models. 


One of those 'civic uplifters' was Benjamin Vicuña MacKenna, then mayor of Santiago. Over time, MacKenna had been a lawyer, soldier, journalist, agronomist, military rebel, exile, presidential candidate, and academic historian. And he fancied himself an architect for parks, as well.


He not only had the historic fort rebuilt and opened, the other buidings in the park were largely his design or initiative. The new buildings were among the first in the city to be lit by gas, and a sophisticated irrigation system was installed that captures and reuses available rainwater.


A small railroad was built to the top: Its roadbed is now part of the path system in the park, allowing a relatively easy walk up without using the stairs. The path above is part of the route.


A kiosk provides snacks and beverages, and there are places to sit and enjoy them.


And it's a place for statues and monuments honoring various figures and movements...

DSC01500DSC01514DSC01520 well as just a pleasant place to spend a summer afternoon in December. A special treat for we Norte-Americanos fleeing the colder weather!



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The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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