Fragments of an Old Santiago

Yesterday, despite the scorching temperatures, I joined Bicipaseos Patrimoniales for their final bicipaseo of 2012. This was the second bicipaseo I have taken part in and I am now determined to go to every event next year as they are truly amazing ways to explore different aspects of Santiago`s heritage (often in areas of the city I don`t know very well), enjoy using my bike in the streets with no concern for inconsiderate motorists (a police escort helped) and try and improve my photography skills. All in all, a great way to spend a few hours on a Sunday.

Yesterday`s event was a 13km ride around Santiago Centro to view some of the remaining Cités. A Cité is a type of architecture that appeared at the end of the 19th Century and continued until about the mid 20th as a solution to the problem of accommodation for the working class, many of whom moved to Santiago from the countryside for work. A Cité basically consists of a comunal courtyard surrounded by a continuous facade of small apartments on either side. The buildings are mostly made of adobe (clay) and are never more than two stories high, although most often they are only a single story. The Cité was a solution to the older conventillos which had a common bathroom and kitchen area for all residents. Often, the conditions in these common spaces, from a sanitary perspective, were poor and thus the Cité with individual kitchens and bathrooms inside the apartments helped provide better living conditions for the residents.

The Cité provides an interesting mix of public and private space in the city, which today doesn`t really exist in the modern city infrastructure. How many of us even know the names of our neighbours these days, despite the fact that we live as close to them, as in the case of the Cités. The communal aspect of the Cité is provided by the central open space which provides access to the apartments.

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Some of the Cités have quite large entrance hallways as above this there are apartments.

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This Cité is called El Capitol and is situated in Recoleta. It was built in 1927. I just loved the colours and the architecture. 

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This photo shows how the front facade of the Cité (above the large entrance arch) is really different to the rest of the design. I am not sure if this is because it was built after the original Cité.

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Today, the Cités in Santiago appear as remnants of a bygone city. Walking along streets full of towering apartment blocks, you may come across a small gate that provides a window into one of these nearly extinct forms of communal living. But in the day to day hustle and bustle of life, you most probably would walk past a Cité and not even realise it is there…

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Behind the tree in the previous photo is this beautiful, very private Cité.

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Unfortunately though, many have been engulfed by monstrous apartment blocks with more than 25 floors, like this one in San Isidro Street, which has four huge towers to the north and west. 

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This is probably the most “upmarket” cité we visited, called Cité Cuevas, named after the street it is in. It has the cutest little garden in the central courtyard.

However, not all of the Cités are as well preserved. Unfortunately, for many reasons, many have become quite run down. One of the stops on our bike ride was to an area south of Avenida Matta, where we visited Paseo Argentina and Pasaje Pozo which are a little more run down.

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The entrance to Paseo Argentina off Avenida Matta

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This photo does not really show that the wooden structures on the building to the left are falling apart, but sadly some of the structures look like they are about to collapse.

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Old wooden doors in Paseo Argentina

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In Pasaje Pozo there were actually four or five Cités next to eachother, which creates all sorts of levels of community interaction. I don`t have a photo of it, but in the corner of the cul-de-sac there was even a small vegetable garden. 

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Some Cités have only one main entrance, whereas others, like in the photo above, are the whole length of a block and thus have entrances at both ends. 

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Many of the residents of the Cités in Santiago are elderly people. This resident seemed really interested in why we were there, since the barrio (neighbourhood) is not exactly a “tourist destination”. 

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Another neighbour in Pasaje Pozo told us how until about ten years ago the neighbourhood was really safe and a great place to live. Unfortunately nowadays, you don`t dare leave your Cité at night thanks to drug dealers, drunks and delinquents.

The neighbours in Barrio Matta have developed a campaign called Patrimonia Matta Sur to try and maintain the sense of community and heritage that this very old barrio holds. I really hope they manage to achieve their goal. At least, their fight has been helped by the recent announcement by the newly elected Mayoress of Santiago to freeze all real estate plans for large apartment blocks south of Avenida Matta. This is definitely a step in the right direction to help maintain the cultural and architectural heritage of Santiago.

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Since I went on the bicipaseo alone, I don`t have any photos of me. But I do have a great photo of my lovely bright red bicycle. I can`t believe that this Christmas I have been happily getting around Santiago on her for one year. I wouldn`t trade her for a car for anything. Long may my cycling days in Santiago continue…

Even though I have no photos of me, most of the participants are really snap happy and some seem to be rather professional when it comes to photography. So after looking at hundreds of photos on the facebook group today, I came across this photo of me.

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I have no clue who “FotoCleteros” is, but thanks for this interesting shot!

Another wonderful Bicipaseo. Thank you so much to the organisers for an incredibly well planned and executed day. I definitely can`t wait to see what they have in store for us next year. That is of course if the world doesn`t end on Friday!

Bicipaseo - Los Cités

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