Santiago is by far the biggest city that I have ever lived in. With over 7 million people and a city center that spans almost 250 square miles, it's very difficult to get your whereabouts and to begin to understand the metropolitan. Fortunately, there are two very famous hills (or "cerros" in Spanish) within the city that help both natives and tourists get a great view of the city. On our first weekend in the city, our group decided to take a trip to both of these famous hills and see what they had to offer.
One characteristic that is inherent to the city of Santiago is the high amount of smog and pollution that is trapped within the atmosphere. The entire city resides within an enclosed valley that is surrounded by the Andes Mountains, creating an atmospheric pocket above the city. Due to the high levels of industrial and vehicular emissions, as well as the lack of rain and wind, this pollution is a constant threat to the city and its inhabitants and causes many gloomy days during the winter (or our summer). However, on the days after it rains, the sky clears up and one can truly see the beautiful views that surround the metropolitan landscape. That weekend, we were lucky enough to get one of these days!
We started off in mid-afternoon in Cerro San Cristobal. Located in northern Santiago, the hill may be the most well-known tourist destination in the city. Within the hill lies many attractions, including the Metropolitan Zoo, a Japanese-style garden, and Santiago's largest public part, Parque Metropolitano (Metropolitan Park). When we arrived at the bottom we decided to take the ferrocarril up, which is a trolley that gives its passengers beautiful views of the mountain and city as it slowly ascends the mountain.
Once at the top, I was awestruck by how beautiful the scenario was. There were gift stores and small unique restaurants to grab a bite to eat, with dozens of families taking pictures and bikers exercising in the park. A huge Chilean flag waved down from the patio, showing the great pride that the Chileans have for this historic site. We could see for miles stretching across the building tops and gazing upon the white-tipped Andes Mountains beyond. By far one of the best panoramic views one will ever have the chance to see.
However, Cerro San Cristobal is so much more than just a beautiful view. True to its name (San Cristobal in English is Saint Christopher), it is also a very religious place that is held sacred by the Chilean people. At the peak, there is a church and an amphitheater that is regularly used for religious ceremonies and for mass. Walking up the steps of the amphitheater one can see various majestic religious statues, depicting such images as the crucifixion of Christ. But beyond all, what is truly remarkable is the amazing 22 meter (about 72 feet) statue of the Virgin Mary that was made in France and financed through private contributions from members of the society. This fascinating sculpture towers over the city and can be seen from almost a mile away on the clearest of days. So well known throughout the world, even Pope John Paul II traveled to Chile in 1987 to gave a mass at the site. With breathtaking sculptures and views as well as a very peaceful aura, I can see why many Chileans hold it so sacred.
We then took the metro to Cerro Santa Lucia, which is located in the center of Santiago next to the Santa Lucia metro station, which is named in recognition of the hill. Although it is quite smaller than San Cristobal, it is a very interesting site due to its extensive history. The hill itself is located on a 15 million year old volcano and is famous for being the location where Pedro de Valdivia founded the city of Santiago. In the 1820´s Fort Hidalgo was built upon the hill and was utilized as a defensive fort. Today it has been refurbished with beautiful fountains, facades, and stairs.
What makes this hill different than San Cristobal is that there is a long and arduous hike to the top. With old, crumbling steps and a steep incline, you really have to watch your step. Mid-way up the hill is a beautiful yellow cliff and fountain as well as an old church which was built in 1872. Once at the top, we were able to get another great view of the city. As you can see in the pictures in this blog, I have a lot to explore. So much to do, so little time! Can't ask for me than this!