Ghosts of the Past: Exploring the General Cemetery

Those of you who have used our business, Miles & Smiles, may have noticed that we offer a tour named after my blog, Querida Recoleta. It was important to me to have an option that was a little different to all the usual options offered by agencies, particularly if it showcases how so many people in Santiago live.

It also includes a visit to the General Cemetery, which is probably my favorite place in Santiago.  Where else can you go to immerse yourself in history, take some great photos and walk or bike to your hearts content, sometimes to the sound of nothing but your breath and the distant hum of engines.  I like to go here to look at the architecture, read the names and think about all the people that came before me and called this place home.  I don´t find it to be morbid or unsettling – in fact I find it to be a calm, peaceful place to go when I need to step away and reflect.

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It is also almost alive with history.  This is the oldest cemetery in Chile where you can find 11 generations buried with enough skeletons to cover 117 football pitches. It was born in the 19th century beside hospitals and medical institutions so that bodies could be quickly taken away and looked after; before 1821, bodies were buried under ground which is today underneath the city pavement.

Patio 29 is where you can find all the unmarked graves of the disappeared, many of whom were abandoned in the Mapocho river, and close examination of tombstones will reveal the deaths that occurred during various epidemics (one particular area is dedicated to the lives lost during the 1887 cholera epidemic, which claimed 100,000).

 

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Querida Recoleta: Que Interesante!

Most visitors to Santiago stop by its famous market, La Vega, for a taste of the exotic and some cheap lunch options. Those that linger longer browse Patronato in search of budget clothing or unusual ingredients in one of its many Asian food stores. The adventurous head over to the General Cemetery to soak up history that seems to press down beneath gigantic mausoleums and cramped casket towers.  Few people really explore this area and quickly dash elsewhere in Chile, despite this being a suburb that holds the history of Santiago in its palm.

Recoleta was originally the Wild West of Santiago, known as La Chimba. The Incas lived here  (Avenida La Paz & Independencia was their ancient route north) and Mapuches too, and today there remains strong indigenous presence. The Mapocho river was an imposing barrier between the Spanish colony of Santiago and La Chimba, but it eventually became a stronghold for religious institutions such as the Domincan order, and wine-making. As more bridges were built traversing the river, Recoleta became an attractive spot for immigrants, most notably from Palestine and Asia, but this has continued right through to the current day with communities from Peru, the Domincan Republic and Haiti.

Some people have emailed me after reading my blog asking to see this “real Santiago” after having spent their time in the modern city. This is a place that is gritty and real – there are no glittering high rises here – but this is a suburb that many Santiaguinos have called home for centuries. There is nowhere more “real” than Recoleta!

Our transport and tour company, Miles & Smiles Santiago, are just getting established but one of the first places we wanted to show people was Recoleta. There is a lot more here than originally meets the eye and a heck of a lot of beauty too. Our tours go at your own pace, in a private vehicle seating up to four passengers, and costs 25,000 pesos per tour (so if four of you book it’s cheap as chips!). Luis leads each trip and not only is he qualified and fluent in English and Spanish, but he’s a history buff from Recoleta!!

Here are some of the places you will uncover:

There are also excellent places to eat at excellent prices, from Palestinan to Syrian, Peruvian to Chilean, and we will point out the best.

We want to show you Recoleta because it is an important place, not only in Santiago’s history, but in it’s present. No trip to Santiago is complete without delving a little deeper into it’s secrets, and you will be supporting local businesses along the way!