It was just me and a Japanese girl who was studying in California. Our guide, Antonio, took us on a fun and informative walk around town, starting with La Moneda Palace, or the government palace. It's the site of a militaty coup d'etat on Sept. 11, 1973 and when Salvador Allende, the sitting president and a socialist, refused the military's demand for his resignation, the Chilean Air Force bombed the building. Antonio told us that some believe the military stormed the palace and killed Allende, but some European scientists discovered that Allende had actually committed suicide before the military broke in. Following that event, restorations included the addition of a bunker under the front square to protect then President General Augusto Pinochet from similar attack. Pinochet assumed his power through the coup that overthrew Allende. He then ruled Chile for 17 years as a dictator.
We looked at the Chilean supreme court and an art museum that was closed due to earthquake damage. We peeked at the former National Congress. The government still uses the building, but Congress has moved to Valparaiso.
Just across from the former legislature's home is a place known as a "coffee with legs." The term is applied to coffee shops where all the servers are women in very high heels and short skirts but also to places with blacked windows, loud music, drinks and girls in skimpy clothing. Prostitution is illegal in Chile and Antonio said the "coffee with legs" is a growing phenomenon that is sort of a way around the law, for now.
From the "coffee with legs, we cut through the stunning Metropolitan Cathedral. Construction on the cathedral started in 1748, but wasn't completed until 1800, with more alterations at the end of the 19th century. Earlier cathedrals in the archdiocese had been destroyed by earthquakes.
Exiting the cathedral into the Plaza de Armas is quite a sight. Just across from it is the Central Post Office building, a museum and what is essentially city hall. Those buildings are the oldest structures in the area, Antonio said. Many others were destroyed or demolished to make way for new buildings.
From there, we walked a few blocks to the Parque Forestal, a beautiful, long park along the river. Sadly, the river is brown and lined with trash. Antonio said it flows from the Andes and gets polluted along the way and picks up silt from other water sources, but he said he wishes the city would invest in the river and clean it.
As you walk through the park, you'll see the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo, located in the old Escuela de Bellas Artes, or School of Fine Arts. As you round the corner, you see the Bellas Artes Museum,a beautiful structure on its own and houses three floors of artwork. It was established in 1880 and is the oldest in South America. The current buiding dates to 1910 and was opened for the first centennial of the Independence of Chile.
A lot of art is in the open air plazas of the center including participatory art throughout and the best part is a giant chalkboard near one of the entrances. It says "Before I die, I want to..." with lines for people to write in their own aspirations. Every few days, the filled board is erased and they start over. Antonio said it's very popular and people continue to fill the board. I think that chalkboard is my very favorite thing in Santiago.