Part 1

Everything you need to know about Chile’s capital in 20 icons

A group of architects, designers, and artists lists the top ten places, people, and things that define the city, and we join the fun with our own list of icons. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012  
Centro Cultural Gabriela Mistral topped the list of Santiago icons. Photo courtesy of La Tercera / F Centro Cultural Gabriela Mistral topped the list of Santiago icons. Photo courtesy of La Tercera / Facebook.

A group of ten architects, designers, and artists recently got together to make a list of ten iconic places, people, and objects that capture the soul of Chile’s capital.

But in a city as vibrant and eclectic as Santiago, any list of symbols is bound to generate controversy, and plenty of much-loved sites are bound to be left out.

So today we’re going to feature the “expert list” of Chile’s icons, while in tomorrow’s article we’ll posit an alternative This is Chile top ten. Meanwhile, make sure you head to our Facebook page to let us know what you think is a true symbol of Santiago.

The expert list:

1. Centro Cultural Gabriela Mistral (GAM)

This striking building in the heart of Santiago is not only one of the most architecturally distinctive in the city. It’s also the beating heart of its cultural scene, with auditoriums that host dance, theater, and musical performances, permanent and temporary exhibition spaces, as well as a library.

2. La Moneda

The imposing white presidential palace occupies an entire block of downtown Santiago and the changing of its security guard is a popular attraction. It also boasts a subterranean cultural center.

3. Río Mapocho

The mighty Mapocho flows down from the Andes to bisect Santiago. While it may not be the deepest or clearest river in Chile, it’s an important landmark of the capital, and its banks are lined with many of the city’s best parks, sculptures, and murals.

4. Neon signs at Rancagua and Diagonal Paraguay

These two neon signs date from the 1950s and were declared National Monuments in 2010. One is on the corner of Diagonal Paraguay and Vicuña Mackenna, and is an advertisement for lingerie, the other is a few blocks away on Rancagua and Bustamante, and advertises champagne.

5. Teleférico

These cable cars ran atop another Santiago icon, Cerro San Crístobal, a hill that overlooks the city. Temporarily closed in 2009, they are in the process of repairs.

6. Metro Logo

In 2012 the Santiago Metro was awarded best metro in the Americas, and its symbol is fittingly distinctive.

7. Antique bus signs

When the city began transitioning into the modern Transantiago system in 2005, the buses that had served the city for decades became an endangered species. The charming hand-painted signs in each bus that advertised its stops soon became a collectors item, and are now beloved symbols of Santiago nostalgia.

8. The Andes

No matter how lost you are in Santiago you can always orient yourself. The dramatic, snow-capped mountains that you see are the Andes. They mark east.

9. Tajamares of the Mapocho

Large chunks of 18th and 19th century era tajamares, called cutwaters in English, can be found along the banks of the Río Mapocho, remains of colonial infrastructure built to tame the river. An outdoor tajamar museum can be found in Parque Balmaceda, next to Metro Salvador.

10. Sopaipillas carts

These carts, hawking deep-fried snacks called sopaipillas, can be found on thousands of street corners the city round. Going for around US$0.25, they have saved many a poor student, or broke traveler, from an empty stomach. Ideal served with pebre, Chile’s signature tomato, onion, chili, and cilantro sauce.

To see images of these icons, head to the La Tercera Facebook page.