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Recently reopened after over three years of extensive renovations, Santiago’s Museo Chileno De Arte PreColombino, or Museum of Pre-Columbian Art, exhibits the rich cultural history of Central and South America. This extensive and amazing collection presents an incredible period of human and cultural development. Through well constructed rooms of art, sculptures, textiles, jewelry, and various other artifacts, visitors can get a feeling for not only Chile’s rich cultural past, but that of the Americas as a whole.

Pre-Columbian Museum

Sculptures from Pre-Columbian Chile.

Personally, I think the museum was wonderful. The rooms were spacious, well lit, and the displays were organized and very well constructed. Located at Bandera 361 the museum sits centrally located in the heart of Santiago’s historical center, a block west of the Plaza de Armas.

History of the Museum

The museum owes its creation to Sergio Larraín García-Moreno, a Chilean avant-garde designer. After studying in Europe during his youth, he returned to the Americas and was awed by the landscapes, and the cultural diversity. He began collecting the art of the Americas, and amassed an impressive collection.

Pre-Columbian Museum

The first hall of the museum.

During the 1970s, Sergio Larraín realized the importance of his growing collection and sought to establish an institution so the collection could be publicly viewed, preserved, and expanded upon. After time and struggle, the then mayor of Santiago, Patricio Mekis, enthusiastically accepted the idea and the search began for a building to house the museum. The Fundación Familia Larraín Echenique was established to protect the Museums objects and integrity and also to establish that Sergio Larraín’s family was donating the collection.

Pre-Columbian Museum

Gorgeous pieces of Jade, a rare and highly valued material in Pre-Columbian cultures.

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Ornate artifacts.

The Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino officially opened its doors to the public in December of 1981 and has since been enjoyed as a way to study and celebrate the legacy of the Pre-Columbian people of the Americas.

The Museum closed in 2011 for renovations and reopened in January 2014. It is housed in the stunning Palacio de la Real Aduana, which was constructed between 1805 and 1807 to serve as the home for the royal courts of justice.

 

History of the Pre-Columbian Era

The museum honors the Pre-Columbian era, before the appearance of European influences on the American continents. Beginning with the Paleo-Indian peoples who first entered and inhabited the American continents. They migrated throughout the Americas, traveling South to the lush landscapes of Central and South America that we cherish today.

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Figurines depict a woman’s physique, broad, child-bearing hips, full breasts, and prominent vulvas to denote fertility.

Prior to the European colonization of the Americas, these Pre-Columbian cultures and civilizations flourished and established urban settlements and even some complex societal hierarchies. These include notable civilizations such as Aztec, Maya, Inca Toltec, and Olmec, to name a few. One may still see and feel the Incan culture of Peru and the Quechua people with visits to famed sites such as Machu Picchu and Saksaywaman.

Pre-Columbian Museum

Coqueros, Coca chewers.

On a side note, for anyone planning a trip to Machu Picchu or Peru (or anyone who has had the opportunity to travel to the area) should take note of these figurines above, those of Coqueras, Coca chewers. Cultures such as the Incans took to chewing Coca leaves to overcome hunger, fatigue, altitude sickness, and thirst.Also the leaf was chewed for religious practices and nutrition as the plant contains essential vitamins. Inhabitants of Machu Picchu chewed the leaves to stave off hunger, as food was limited in the mountain-top city. Lastly, the plant is known for its psychoactive alkaloid, cocaine. That probably had a role to play in their large consumption!

Although some of the civilizations had long since ceased by the time of the European arrival, archaeological investigations have uncovered their history, as seen in the museum. With the European Colonization of the Americas, led by Christopher Columbus, came the decline of the native populations of the Americas: mostly from diseases the Europeans brought with them, but also and more significantly from murder and exploitation.

 

Getting Around 

The museum displays art of the peoples of the Americas, according to Cultural Areas. These Areas include Mesoamerica, Caribbean, Amazonian, Central Andes, and Southern Andes. The museum’s excellent website, in Spanish and English, offers interactive maps and even animations of the cultures, their span and duration in the Americas.

Pre-Columbian Museum

The bottom floor of the museum, displaying the artifacts from Chile’s ancient past.

You will receive a map of the museum with the purchase of your ticket. It’s best to start at the top of the museum and then work your way to the bottom floor, which is solely ancient Chilean artifacts, organized by the Northern and Southern Cultures of Chile during this era. A highlight of this area are the Chinchorro mummies, remains of individuals of the Chinchorro culture of Northern Chile, or the elaborate Quipus, elaborate strings or threads used to collect data and keep records.

Pre-Columbian Museum

A quipu from Southern Chile. This object was used as a recording device for collecting data. Imagine using this to tend to your finances!

Be sure not to miss the textile room on the second floor. You enter through a set of revolving doors to this impressive room that even has interactive drawers to open and view the treasured contents. The room itself has an extensive timing system for the lighting, in order to preserve the ancient and beautiful textiles of the past.

Pre-Columbian Museum

Some of the stunning and elaborate textiles of the Pre-Columbian era.

Pre-Columbian Museum

More elaborate textiles in the Museum’s textile room.

 

Getting There

Located in the heart of downtown Santiago at Bandera 361, on the corner of Bandera and Compañía streets, a block away from Plaza de Armas.

By Metro

The museum is easily accessibly by Metro, as it is situated very close to the Plaza de Armas metro stop, which is on Linea 5 (the Green line).

 

Museum Information and Ticket Sales

The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday, 10:00am to 6:00pm (18:00hrs). However, it is closed on Mondays. The first Sunday of each month entrance is free beginning March 2nd, 2014.

The website lists the admission rates as so:

General Public $3.500 CLP
University Student: $3.000 CLP
Seniors: $3.000 CLP
Children (under 10): Free

The Museum offers guided visits, which you can request by calling +56 2 352 7522 or by emailing reservas@museoprecolombino.cl. The website offers free MP3 Audio Guides available for download. They are in English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish. They are arranged by the cultural areas, following the same order of the galleries.

The kind woman who sold us our tickets spoke English and explained the Museum to us, and the map, and how to begin on the top level and work our way down to the bottom floor.

 

Things to Do Nearby 

As the museum is centrally located, there are countless options, activities, and places to explore!

Taking a walking tour of Centro Santiago, with Plaza de Armas and La Moneda Palace as highlights.

 

Or hunt for treasures on Bandera, a popular shopping street in the center with rows of used clothing stores.

Looking for some fresh produce or perhaps something sweeter? La Vega is nearby for all of your shopping needs, as well as several delicious Ice Cream options!

If you are looking for some nature, gorgeous Cerro Santa Lucia towers over city buildings in the city and offers stunning views of downtown Santiago. Across the street is the Santa Lucia Markets, where you can find Artisan shops and souvenirs galore!

 

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Article written by Alyssa Roselli, to learn more about Alyssa, read her bio!