Scientific heritage

31 architectural gems reveal Chilean capital’s path to modernity

New website offers free audio guides, images and history of 31 buildings which changed Santiago forever.

Monday, December 16, 2013 Category: Education
Observatorio Manuel Foster. Photo via the Departamento de Astronomía y Astrofísica, Pontificia Unive Observatorio Manuel Foster. Photo via the Departamento de Astronomía y Astrofísica, Pontificia Universidad Católica.



Cerro San Cristóbal, the iconic hill which rises high above Santiago, is famed for its statue of the Virgin Mary and the sweeping views it offers of the capital, not to mention its dramatic backdrop, the Andes.

It is also full of hidden treasures, like the Observatorio Manuel Foster. Built in 1903, the observatory was established by a U.S. scientific expedition to study the southern stars and celestial movements. In 1933 it was donated to the Universidad Católica, and in 2010 it was declared a National Monument. Its telescopes, once among the most sophisticated in the world, have tracked countless supernovas and galactic phenomenon, including Halley's Comet.

Its story, however, remains largely unknown, even to the thousands who live at the feet of the hill.

Now that story is being brought to life by a website celebrating 31 buildings which took Santiago into the modern era. Launched in August, Lugares de Ciencia not only reveals hidden histories, it has made them more accessible than ever with Spanish-language videos and audio guides as well as smartphone adaptability. For those who don’t speak Spanish, a detailed map and images still make the website a great resource for anyone keen to delve into a side of the capital you won’t find in the tourist guides.

All 31 buildings on the website were constructed between 1850 and 1950, a hundred-year period in which Santiago modernized and industrialized dramatically, and the lives of Santiaguinos were altered forever.

The buildings are presented in six categories: energy, communications, territory,transport, industry and health.

In the energy section is the Fábrica de Gas San Borja, a gas factory which began operations from 1910 in Calle Antofagasta, in the neighborhood of Estación Central. The Fábrica drew an end to the age of wood-fired stoves in the capital, and ushered in the era of the now ubiquitous gas-stoves.
Also on the website is the Central Eléctrica Mapocho, a coal-powered generator built in 1910 at the intersection of Mapocho and Almirante Barroso, which brought electricity to thousands of new homes and illuminated streets throughout the capital.

Another observatory, a brewery and a hospital which saved thousands of lives are among the other stories waiting to be discovered on Lugares de Ciencia.

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