The first thing you need to know if you want to orient yourself in Santiago is the location of Plaza Italia, also known as (Metro) Baquedano. This huge roundabout sits in the heart of the city, with Bellavista and Cerro San Cristóbal to the north, Providencia to the east, Ñuñoa to the south, and El Centro to the west. From what I understand, the name Plaza Italia originated from the statue (on the northeast side of the plaza) given to Chile by Italy for their 100 year anniversary. Note that Plaza Italia is the point where Alameda (the common name for the main boulevard, Avenida Bernardo O’Higgins) changes its name to Providencia on the east side. The most blatant feature of the central hub is the Telfónica tower, which is shaped like a ridiculously large cell phone (referred to as La Torre Celular, see photo).
This addition to the Santiago skyline (1996) used to be the tallest building in the city, perhaps in the country. I suppose that Telefónica, one of the largest communications companies worldwide and one of the leading telephone service providers in Chile with the brand Movistar, really wanted to make a statement, as you can pretty much see the building from any decent vantage point in the entire city. This claim to fame has long been surpassed with the construction of ever higher office buildings in the city. The current champion for tallest building clearly is the office tower at the Costanera Center beside the new shopping mall, which I believe is now the tallest building in South America. The bottom floor of the Telefonica building is a free museum, which is worth a stop if you are passing by (which you inevitably will be if you plan to actually see Santiago). I’ve seen two exhibits there: an abstract art exhibition and a Star Wars tribute, so who knows what you’ll find.
Metro Baquedano is a convenient access point for the following locations: Bellavista, Cerro San Cristóbal, and La Chascona (Pablo Neruda’s house) all found due north of the plaza, just walk toward the big hill and cross the bridge (northeast side of the plaza or left hand side if you are walking from the metro toward the hill). Parque Bustamante, Parque Balmaceda and Parque Forestal flank the east, south and western tips of the plaza. It is like the hub of a wheel. Depending on which direction you venture from the Plaza, the personality and characteristics of Santiago are very distinctive and very different.
Note: I almost always hear the plaza referred to as Plaza Italia by Chileans, unless they are talking about going to the metro station, in which case they will say Baquedano.
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