In Santiago

Chile’s leading human rights museum: the Museo de la Memoria

The museum’s innovative architectural design allows visitors to explore the legacy of human rights abuses during Chile’s military dictatorship, 1973 to 1990.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011  
The Museum of Memory and Human Rights. (Photo: Giovanni A. Pérez Alvarez/Flickr) The Museum of Memory and Human Rights. (Photo: Giovanni A. Pérez Alvarez/Flickr)

The Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos, or Museum of Memory and Human Rights, consistently makes the list of Santiago highlights as the world turns its eye on the Chilean capital’s cultural renaissance.

This September, take the opportunity to explore the museum’s pioneering human rights memorial and to enjoy the beautiful spaces created in a building opened last year in honor of Chile’s bicentennial.

September is an important month in Chilean history, encompassing not just the Fiestas Patrias on Sept. 18 and 19 but also the date of the 1973 military coup, Sept. 11. During an interview with This is Chile on a late-winter morning in Santiago, museum director Ricardo Brodsky said the museum is planning a new gallery exhibit this September, in conjunction with the Universidad Católica, celebrating the visual memory of Chile’s indigenous people.

The permanent collection of the museum features archives and memorials to the victims of human rights abuses during the military dictatorship from 1973 to 1990.

“We see a lot of tourists from France and North America,” Brodsky said. “They’re interested in this part of Chilean history.”

History buffs will find the museum’s archives fascinating, filled with the sort of details that make history come alive: letters to family from prisoners in some of the most notorious detention centers; newspaper clippings and children’s drawings from the time of the dictatorship; testimony from survivors of torture.

But the museum is more than a catalog of horrifying memorabilia; it is also a philosophical examination of human rights, which explains the museum’s appeal even to those with only the most basic knowledge of Chilean history.

“You don’t have to know anything in particular before coming to the museum,” Brodsky told This is Chile. “The story here is pretty complete, from Sept. 11, 1973 until the return of democracy… Now, if you have questions about how Chile arrived at Sept. 11, then you have to start reading up, because there are many interpretations, not just one version, and the museum doesn’t provide an explanation to that question.”

The museum features signs in both Spanish and English, as well as guided tours in both languages. In the future, the museum will have a fully bilingual website, as well as optional audio guides in English, Spanish and French. “We are making an effort to achieve a bilingual museum,” Brodsky said.

Leave at least an hour to explore the museum. Admission is free. Afterwards, take a moment to reflect in the light-filled cafe on the third story, where you can enjoy the view of the peaceful, bustling streets and downtown Santiago’s skyscrapers.

Where: The museum is located in Barrio Yungay at Matucana 501, across the street from metro station Quinta Normal (Line 5). If arriving by car, the parking garage entrance is on Catedral.

When: The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.