The poster child of Santiago, the graceful Palacio de la Moneda is considered one of the finest neoclassical structures in Latin America. Located between Plaza de la Constitución and Plaza de la Libertad and extending for an entire block, it was built between 1784 and 1805 to house the royal mint by revered Italian architect Joaquín Toesca. In 1848, it became the residential palace for the presidents of Chile starting with Manuel Bulnes and ending with Carlos Ibáñez de Campo in 1958, when it became the official seat of government rather than the president's home.
The palace's harmony and symmetry are best viewed from Plaza de la Constitución's northern side. The building regularity is truly striking -- the same set of windows is repeated 14 times along the length of the main facade, each divided by uniform columns -- and the overarching feel is of order and stability rather than grandeur. Fittingly, this is the only presidential headquarters in the world that allows civilians to simply stroll through the main archway and wander around the inner courtyards. Patio de los Cañones is named for the two centerpiece 18th-century canons while the Moorish-style Patio de los Naranjos is more reminiscent of the Alhambra Palace in Granada with a cluster of orange trees surrounding a serene 17th-century fountain. Take a walk inside; you may not see the president but it's quite an experience to glimpse the rush of ministers and journalists. There are also several art and sculpture exhibitions inside. Try to plan your visit at 10am to watch Chilean soldiers perform a somber changing of the guard to the Chilean national anthem; it takes place every other day.
Beyond aesthetic appreciation, the palace has symbolical and historical resonance. Most infamously, the Palacio was the site of the 1973 Pinochet-led coup that ousted Salvador Allende. For several generations of Chileans, the scratchy black-and-white images of La Moneda being blitzed by General Pinochet on September 11, 1973, ushered in a brutal period in the history of Chile. Today, it is the presidential palace and offices of Chile's first female president, Michelle Bachelet, who was herself imprisoned and tortured by the Pinochet regime.
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