Santiago’s Plaza de Armas is considered to be the heart of Chile’s capital and sets the landmark point known as Kilometer Zero, from which distances are measured between the different towns in the country.
Its surroundings are marked by the convergence not only of emblematic buildings, symbols of the city’s origin and witnesses of its growth for more than four centuries, but also of characteristic personages who instill life into the square.
Among these, visitors can find painters who, day by day, unfold their art; historical photographers using box cameras of bygone years, and street humorists who catch the attention of passers-by.
The square was designed by master builder Pedro de Gamboa. Around it were erected the Cabildo, or Town Hall House (now the Municipality of Santiago); the Governors’ House (now the Central Post Office), the Real Audiencia or Royal Courthouse (now the National History Museum) and the Iglesia Mayor, or Main Church (now the Metropolitan Cathedral).
Since it was established, it has been the social center of Santiago, without ever losing its status as the heart of city life and unquestionable icon of heritage and tourism in the capital.
During the year improvement work of the place who considered changes in lighting, tree replacement, installation of Wi-fi, new furniture and Recovery Portal Bulnes were performed. Along with this, via the Internet, you can access cameras that cover the grounds and thus not miss any activity of this important meeting of Santiago.
In terms of ornamentation, Santiago’s Plaza de Armas features an Equestrian Statue of Pedro de Valdivia holding in his hand the charter of the Foundation of Santiago, and the statue of Cardenal José María Caro on one side of the Santiago Cathedral façade.
There is also the monument to the Indigenous People, a work by Enrique Villalobos, who won the tender called by the Municipality of Santiago in 1991 to commemorate the 500 years of the Discovery of America.
A further sculpture that should be mentioned is the statue “To the Freedom of America”, a work by Italian artist Francisco Orsolino. It depicts goddess Minerva giving an offering to an Indian woman who breaks the chains of slavery, a symbol of Independence.
At the request of Pedro de Valdivia, who founded Santiago on February 12, 1541, the square was designed by master builder Pedro de Gamboa following the unique pattern of cities established by the Spanish crown for the conquest of America.
Around the square, the Spanish conquerors installed the visible symbols of social order, such as the Cabildo, or Town Council House; the Governors’ House; the Real Audiencia, or Royal Courthouse, and the Iglesia Mayor, or Main Church.
It was initially called the Main Square, but six months after the Foundation of Santiago and following the first large-scale Indian attack, it was renamed as Arms Square, due to the appearance of military camp taken on by the city after it was reconstructed.
During the colonial period and up to the mid 19th century, the square was an esplanade with just one fountain that used to supply the city center with water. The open space, surrounded by buildings, soon became the center of social, economic and political activities for local residents, such as the festival of Saint James Apostle, the patron saint of the city; mock spears and ring jousting games; bullfighting, and the Corpus Christi and Easter Week processions.
At the turn of the 17th century, the triánguez, authentic Indian popular markets, whose peddlers were already of concern to the Town Council, began to operate.
In the 19th century, Plaza de Armas began to become modernized. In 1835, the square was first cobbled and, three years later, the bronze fountain was replaced by the monument “To the Freedom of America”.
In 1873, Mayor Benjamín Vicuña Mackenna ordered the planting of elms, acacias and rubber trees which, along with the carbon dioxide street lighting, made the place into a pleasant walk.
Two decades later, landscape designed Guillermo Renner plotted a modern garden that was preserved until 1999, when the square was restructured concurrently with the construction of a new Metro station: the Plaza de Armas station.
The project by architect Rodrigo Pérez de Arce rescued the ceremonial nature of the colonial period square, leaving two esplanades suitable for ceremonies on the north and west sides.
Since then, this freshly designed square has been the scenario for successful, first class mass performances, including the recital by the group La Ley in 2001, the function given by The Three Tenors one year later, or the spectacular recital given by soprano Verónica Villarroel and tenor Plácido Domingo in 2007.
Plaza de Armas, Santiago.