Santiago in Ruins

The title of this post makes it sound like I am writing about a cataclysmic earthquake that has destroyed Santiago, but no… thankfully I have come to learn that the city is pretty darn good at withstanding all the geological forces that the earth throws at it. However, earthquakes aside, there are many buildings throughout the city that for various reasons, have fallen into a state of disrepair and abandonment. And this was the theme for this month’s Bicipaseo Patrimonial (Cultural Bike Ride) last Sunday.

We started in Plaza Brazil in the centre of Santiago and our first stop was Palacio Pereira.  This palace was built in 1872 and the original owner, Don Luis Pereira lived there until his death in 1909 and his widow maintained the building until 1932. Unfortunately from that point on the building started being neglected by its occupants – at one point it housed a girls school, and then in the 70’s it was sub-letted to various local shops which caused much damage. The final straw was the earthquake in 1985 which was registered as 8.0 on the Richter Scale. Despite having a rich cultural heritage, the building was only declared a national monument in 1987 when it was already in a deplorable state. Since that time, nothing much has happened, until finally in 2012 the government announced restoration plans which will finally lead to the building becoming the headquarters for the State Library, Archive and Museum Organisation.

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Palacio Pereira

The second stop was a large church (Basílica del Salvador) that I have passed by many times on my bicycle and always wondered how it is even standing. Now I know a little more about its history. The original church was destroyed by a fire in 1863 and the current church was completed after 60 years of work in 1932. It was declared a National Monument in 1977, but sadly it was badly damaged in the 1985 earthquake. Various attempts to restore the Basilica were unsuccessful and the earthquake on 27 February 2010 (the strongest earthquake ever recorded in living memory) damaged the construction even further. In 2011 the Ministry of Public Works put out a project tender to design a structural support for the church in order to then be able to restore it in the future.

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Basilica Del Salvador

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Earthquake damage

You may be thinking that all the buildings in Santiago that are in ruins are due to earthquakes, but the third stop on our bike ride was to see the Estadio Ferroviario which was built by the Railway Organisation in 1941. At that point it was the largest wooden stadium in Chile with a capacity of 31000 people. From then on it was the home of the Railway Sports Club where the prerequisite to be a member was to be a worker in the railways. The stadium seems to have had a rather interesting history with its claim to fame being the practice ground for the Brazilian Football team (with Pele) in the 1962 World Cup. However in the last few decades it has started falling into a state of disrepair, although I am not sure what is the reason for this. It seems that the latest drama was when the police closed down the club in 201o due to not having paid rent for ten years. The history of the club was literally thrown onto the street (according to the article I read) and various neighbours and members walked off with the memorabilia. Right now it seems like the future of the club is being debated.

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What remains of the club today. While not being a football fan at all, I do understand how it is important to at least try and preserve the history of the club and ensure that the property is not sold off to build unsightly apartment blocks like those popping up all over  Santiago.

What I really liked about this bike ride was that I got to see neighbourhoods of Santiago that for three years here have just been names on a map to me. The final stop on the ride took us to the commune of Pedro Aguirre Cerda and a giant building that is known colloquially as the “White Elephant of Santiago”. The socialist government of Salvador Allende started building what was going to be called “The People’s Hospital”. However in 1973, with only the main concrete structure completed, the Coup occurred which lead to 16 years of dictatorship under Pinochet. During the 1980’s, apparently the military government decided that it was not economically viable to complete the hospital in terms of the amount of people it would serve and the country was not in a very strong financial position. Some seem to think that they never completed the hospital based on the fact that it was a project started under the rule of Salvador Allende, but who knows if that is true or not. The government did construct a hospital in another part of the city centre that served the same area.

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In 1999, the Chilean Government sold the building to a real estate developer, however their plan to build a mall there was never realised and the building has been abandoned for 40 years.

I really have to say what a great initiative BiciPaseos does. The number of people joining the monthly ride just keeps growing and the knowledge that the guides have on the subjects is really indepth. Plus, you get to cycle the streets of Santiago without worrying about cars and buses.

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Some of the great BiciPaseos team

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Thank you to the police escorts who help make the ride flow so smoothly and deal with the irate motorists who just have to spend a few minutes extra at a red traffic light.

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