La Moneda Palace, Santiago (Chile)

La Moneda Palace, Santiago (Chile)

Tue, 08/20/2019 - 16:07
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La Moneda Palace is the seat of the President of the Republic of Chile. It also houses the offices of three cabinet ministers and occupies an entire block in downtown Santiago, in an area known as the Civic District. It was the site of a 1973 military coup d'état against President Salvador Allende.

La Moneda Palace (Palacio de la Moneda), or simply La Moneda, is the seat of the President of the Republic of Chile. It also houses the offices of three cabinet ministers: Interior, General Secretariat of the Presidency and General Secretariat of the Government. It occupies an entire block in downtown Santiago, in an area known as the Civic District.

La Moneda, originally a colonial mint house, was designed by Italian architect Joaquín Toesca. Construction began in 1784 and was opened in 1805, while still under construction. The production of coins in Chile took place at La Moneda from 1814 to 1929.

In June, 1845 during president Manuel Bulnes's administration, the palace became the seat of government and presidential residence. In 1930, a public square named Plaza de la Constitución ("Constitution Square") was built in front of the palace. After the presidency of Gabriel González Videla it ceased to serve as a presidential residence.

It was the site of a military coup d'état against President Salvador Allende which brought upon his death. During the military coup d'état on September 11, 1973, the Chilean Air Force bombed the palace at the request of the army.

Reconstruction and restoration projects of the damage caused were completed in March 1981, although some bullet marks have been preserved and can still be seen today. During the 1973-1980 restorations, an underground office complex (the so-called "bunker") was built under the front square to provide a safe escape for General Augusto Pinochet in case of an attack.

During President Ricardo Lagos's administration, the palace's inner courtyards were opened to the public during certain hours of the day. Lagos also re-opened Morandé 80, a gate used by Chilean presidents to enter the palace since the early 20th century. It was eliminated during the restoration of the palace as not being in the original plans, but was restored because of the heavy symbolism attached to it as being the gate through which Chilean Presidents entered La Moneda skipping the main's gate guard protocol or, in other words, as ordinary citizens of the country. It was also the gate through which the body of President Allende was taken out after the 1973 coup.

A traditional changing of the guard ceremony takes place every two days on odd-numbered days in odd-numbered months, even-numbered days in even-numbered months, including Sundays, at 10 a.m. weekdays and 11 a.m. on weekends (as of June 2015). A formal ceremony dating back to the 1850's, it lasts about 30 minutes and includes a band playing, troops with horses parading into the square, and much pomp and circumstance. The Carabineros de Chile provides the guard unit and band for the ceremony, the guard unit being composed of a Foot Guards battalion and a Horse Guards squadron.

Chile submitted La Moneda Palace for nomination to the World Heritage List in 1998 with the following description (edited for clarity):

Towards 1730, the economy of the Reino de Chile was going through a great depression. For this reason, the Cabildo de Santiago (city council) asked of the King of Spain the setting up of a mint house in the city. The Crown lacked the resources to undertake such enterprise, therefore it was decided to assign it to a private citizen. So, don Francisco Garcia Huidobro, a wealthy Spaniard businessman settled in Santiago, was appointed as Treasurer in Perpetuity, and he bought the house at the southwest comer of Huérfanos and Morandé streets, known as Palacio Viejo (Old Palace).

On September 10, 1749, the first coin is minted in gold at that place, bearing the image of King Fernando Vl. After the death of Garcia Huidobro, the Mint House is moved to the old Jesuit schoci located at one side of the church of the Compahia de Jesus. However, the installations did not meet the requirements to perform these operations, so in 1780 the Governor Agustin Jauregui proposed the construction of a buliding for this purpose. The person appointed to put into effect the project was the Roman architect Joaquin Toesca y Ricci, who had participated in numerous public works made by the Spanish King Carlos lil.

As the ideal site for the building, Toesca chose that of the Colegio Carolino, then known as the Teatinos lot. Thus, the works started in 1784, and the following year the required materials began to arrive: lime from the Polpaico country estate; sand from the Malpo River; red stones from a stone quarry at the Cerro San Cristobal; white stone from Cerro Blanco; oak and cypress wood from the woods of Valdivia; Spanish locksmith's craft and forge from Vizcaya; and 20 varieties of bricks baked in Santiago for the construction of lintels, comers, floors, moldings, and of the solid walls more than a meter thick.

Toesca died in 1799, before seeing his work finished. The military engineer Agustin Cavallero continued his work. In 1805, and lacking some finishing, Governor Luis Muhoz de Guzman formally opened the Mint House of Santiago de Chile, deemed by some specialists the best and most harmonious civilian building of the Colonial America.

Of a pure neoclassical style and with Roman Doric influences, the building is an horizontal volume transmitting strength and stability thanks to its rectilinear composition. Its main facade faces Moneda street, and its rooms -richly yet soberly furnished- are distributed along transverse and longitudinal axes forming several patios, sources of light and quietness.

In 1846, at the request of President Manuel Buines, the building turned into the presidential house and seat of government, although until 1922 mintage works were done in it.

The building has been subjected to several modifications throughout the years, made by different presidents. The surroundings of La Moneda underwent an important remodeling starting from 1930, that enhanced its south facade, created the squares at both fronts, and surrounded the Palace with stern buildings for housing public institutions.

The last great restoration of the building was motivated by the painful destruction it suffered as a consequence of the 1973 military coup. The Architecture Office of the Ministry of Public Works was in charge of this restoration, concluded in 1981, which sought to give back full validity to Toescats original concept.

The Palace keeps until this day the style, strength and harmony impressed by its architect. This, along with the roles it has played, account for the high esteem in which Chileans hold this building.