If you have been following my Instagram feed, then you will know that lately I´ve been spending a bit of time at Cerro Blanco (Recoleta). During my four years in Chile, I have been past this hill countless times and never thought of anything of it.
Now I feel quite silly.
This unassuming hill, which separates Avenida Recoleta and Avenida La Paz and which is dwarfed by the colossal Cerro San Cristobal in front, is literally a treasure trove of history and culture. In the early 2000´s, it was a place used heavily by delinquents until the Municipalidad of Recoleta declared it a Cultural Heritage site. Today it has been transformed into a cultural space for the original people of the land, the pueblos originarios, who use it for ceremonies and activities as well as an aldea.
Why is Cerro Blanco so interesting?
This was the first Catholic site in Chile, where in 1545 Ines de Suarez made the first shrine to Montserrat and later constructed the Iglesia de Viñita.
The hill was already sacred, however. Known as Cerro Huechuraba, it was named after the region´s toqui and was an important site for the local Picunche people. In fact, the remarkable Piedras Tacitas, holes cut into the rocks facing Avenida La Union, can still be seen today and are remarkable proof of how little we know about the past – no-one knows how or why they were made, but they are considered to be the largest concentration in all of the America´s. They were first discovered in the 1970´s, and what is interesting about the Cerro Blanco site is that the holes were made into what is known as living rock, rather than loose rock. In 1992 the Piedras Tacitas were declared a National Historic Monument.
Cerro Huechuraba became known as Cerro Blanco after becoming famous for the white rock used to make various constructions including the original bridge crossing the Mapocho River at Cal y Canto in 1887. The entrance to the original mine is still visible.
Cerro Blanco Today
The space is shared by multiple indigenous groups led by CONACIN (Coordinadora Nacional Indianista), which promotes multicultural coexistence, and Jose Segovia, who is regarded as the overall guardian of the hill. However, the situation today is not that simple. In 2001, the land was loaned to CONACIN and the group worked with the Ministry of Housing on a combined plan to develop the hill, which Segovia has said was abandoned by Serviu. The various groups continued on their own, setting up sites for Aymara, Mapuche and various others, and for sixteen years they were left alone. Last August, Serviu responded to complaints that originated from inside CONACIN and have no rescinded the agreement, leading to a difficult political situation. The mayor of Recoleta has set up meetings with CONACIN and various other indigenous groups such as CONADI (Corporacion Nacional de Desarrollo Indigena), but this has not been successful; CONACIN have stated that they distrust the intentions of the municipality who are thought to want to develop the area.
Kano Llaitul, who is Mapuche, explains that ¨We want to transform it into a Pillanhuenpul, a sacred hill [for our ceremonies]. As well as that we want to recover our language, Mapundungun … many words have been lost, many Mapuche ceremonies have changed their structure. Now the need to express ourselves in our language has resurfaced. For example, our people could talk to the birds and the trees, the rivers and the sky. The whole environment has a language and that is Mapundungun.¨
CONACIN carries out various activities on the hill that are open to join, including various classes for children, and there is also a machi on site that anyone can visit. The area has also been planted with various species of native flora and fauna, and at the summit there is a park dedicated to organ donors.
To Find Out More
What The Words Mean
Aldea – village
Machi – Mapuche healer
Toqui – Mapuche chief
How To Get Here
Metro: Cerro Blanco (line 2)