The enormous cultural significance of the former house of Nobel prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda has been officially recognized by the Chilean government, which declared “La Sebastiana” a National Monument last Thursday.
Neruda’s three homes have all been converted into museums that preserve the poet’s eccentric lifestyle and display his formidable collection of antiques, curios, artworks and trinkets from around the world.
Situated in the bohemian port city of Valparaíso, La Sebastiana was built by the Spaniard Sebastian Collao at the request of Neruda, who wrote the architect:
I feel Santiago tiredness. I want to find a little house in Valparaiso to live and write quietly. It must have certain attributes. It can’t be located too high up or too low down. It should be solitary but not excessively so. Neighbors, hopefully invisible. They shouldn’t be seen nor heard. Original, but not uncomfortable. With many wings, but strong. Neither too big or too small. Far from everything but close to transportation. Independent, but close to the amenities.”
The house encapsulates those contradictions, as well as the exuberant personality of its former owner, who stamped his influence on both its design and decor.
Perched atop one of Valparaíso’s distinctive hills, the house commands a sweeping view of the city and the Pacific Ocean. Winding stairways – one of which leads to nowhere – and narrow passageways give it a nautical feel, reflecting Neruda’s great love of the sea. Displayed in the house are old map collections, historic paintings, marine relics and antiques from around the world, like a merry-go-round horse carved in wood.
But perhaps more than in any other of Neruda’s houses, visitors to La Sebastiana can catch a glimpse into the everyday life of the poet, from the study in which he wrote and the bar where he entertained friends to the privacy of his bedroom.
The house has been open to the public since its restoration in 1991, and, like his other two homes, is run by the Pablo Neruda Foundation.