New cemetery tour rouses ghosts of Chile’s past

Theater company teams up with one of Latin America’s biggest burial grounds to educate students about the country’s rich history.

The alleyways dissecting Santiago’s Cementerio General paint a vivid picture of Chile’s past. Photo from Flickr / Ivan Carvell
The alleyways dissecting Santiago’s Cementerio General paint a vivid picture of Chile’s past. Photo from Flickr / Ivan Carvell

Late Chilean historical heavyweights such as Bernardo O’Higgins, Salvador Allende and Gladys Marín have risen from the dead to host a new historical tour around the ornate mausoleums of Santiago’s Cementerio General — one of the largest cemeteries in Latin America.

The free tour, which takes place twice a day, every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, is designed to educate students about Chile’s rich history and revolves around the great figures whose remains can be found in the cemetery, located in Recoleta.

“The initiative is designed to highlight the architectural and historical heritage of the cemetery,” Daniel Jadue, Mayor of Recoleta, told La Tercera.

Marco Sánchez, the director of the cemetery, was the brains behind the tour and got the project off the ground after agreeing to work with the aptly-named theater company “La Recoleta” to realize his plan. Both parties collaborated to the 12 re-enactments — each of which features rousing speeches detailing the historical events vital to the formation of modern day Chile. Audience participation is also encouraged.

Coined the “Historical Heritage Tour,” it is not the only option available to visitors — a ghostly monk takes a break from his ghoulish duty of haunting the cemetery to lead groups of brave visitors through the cemetery by night. Intrepid members of the public are shown through dark passageways and down shadowy paths framed by moonlight tombs. They learn about Chilean folklore and tales of ghouls along the way who, some believe, continue to roam the burial ground.

“With so many important characters in the graveyard, it is was a challenge working out how to interpret them all during the tour,” Cristian Nielbansky, an actor from the tour, told This Is Chile. “However, we have created an educational and historical tour that is fully interactive.”
More than two million people have been buried in the Cementerio General since its was established in 1821 by Chilean independence leader, O’Higgins, who was responsible for freeing the country from Spanish rule during the Chilean War of Independence from 1810 to 1821.

More than 210 square acres were set aside by O’Higgins for the cemetery — situated northwest of Cerro Blanco — with hundreds of trees planted among stunning gardens in honor of the dead. Numerous sculptures, totalling around 250, are scattered throughout the area, which also serves as one of Santiago’s urban parks.

No more than 172 of Chile’s most influential figures have been immortalized within Cementerio General, including all but two of the country’s dead presidents. One of the most popular memorials is that of former President Salvador Allende, whose resting place was Viña del Mar’s Cementerio Santa Inés before his remains were moved to the capital.

Times and schedules for both tours can be found on the Cementerio General website.