Benjamín Vicuña Mackenna: Santiago’s Renaissance Man

Get up close and personal with one of Chile’s most important icons at the Museo Benjamín Vicuña Mackenna. 

Santa Lucía Hill in historic Lastarria is a popular destination for tourists and city-dwellers alike, a veritable garden paradise in the middle of the bustling city. This gem of urban planning was part of the magnum opera of Benjamín Vicuña Mackenna, perhaps one of Chile’s most colorful and intriguing historical figures. A visit to the Museo Nacional Benjamín Vicuña Mackenna is a must for anybody interested in understanding the man behind the works.
The museum located in Parque Bustamante first opened in 1957 and comprises a small portion of what was once Vicuña Mackenna’s large estate. Containing furniture, documents and personal effects, the museum offers a keen insight into the man that almost singlehandedly modernized Santiago. Of special significance is the former superintendent’s library, boasting a large of collection of manuscripts, Vicuña Mackenna’s desk, and a small room where he slept when burning the midnight oil.
Born of Basque and Irish heritage, Vicuña Mackenna seemed destined to be a part of Chile’s history. His rather turbulent early life was marked by rebellion, and by the time he was 32 he had already been exiled twice and escaped at least one death sentence. However during his less than voluntary time abroad Vicuña Mackenna traveled Europe and the Americas extensively, where he immersed himself in culture and architecture. He was particularly fascinated by Paris, which during the 1950’s was undergoing an important modernization process, and would recall these lessons in his public works as superintendent of Santiago.
Though he only served as superintendent for three years (1972-1975), Vicuña Mackenna implemented some of the city’s most important works, many of which are still visible today. Using public and private funds he completely renovated Santa Lucía, adding plazas, an observatory at the top and various decorations imported from Europe. He demarcated the Santiago city limits, pioneered the vision of a green city by planting an abundance of trees and even founded a society for the protection of animals. Though not completed during his lifetime, he also began the important project of digging canals to divert the Mapocho river.
On top of all this, Vicuña Mackenna founded Santiago’s 3rd Fire Company – still present, across from the museum – of which he was an active member until his death. Not to mention he was also a lawyer and historian who authored more than 100 books.
For a more detailed experience visit the Museo Nacional Benjamín Vicuña Mackenna, and the next time you’re enjoying the view from atop Santa Lucía Hill, you can give a little thanks to the man who made it all possible. For a more detailed experience visit the Museo Nacional Benjamín Vicuña Mackenna, and the next time you’re enjoying the view from atop Santa Lucía Hill, you can give a little thanks to the man who made it all possible.