Cerro Castillo Palace
This building, which dates back to 1929, is the vacation residence of the President, and also hosts ministerial and diplomatic meetings.
This neo-colonial style home was designed by the architects Luis Browne and Manuel Valenzuela and is recognized as one of the most emblematic and traditional buildings in Viña del Mar.
Construction on the building began at the end of the 1920’s thanks to the First Lady, Graciela Letelier Velasco, who encouraged her husband, Carlos Ibáñez del Campo, to build a presidential summer home atop the Cerro Castillo (Castle Hill) when the Garden City (Viña del Mar’s nickname) was booming.
Since then, this building has been used by various presidents and acquired an even more important role when the National Congress was moved to Valparaíso.
On May 9, 2000, the City Council voted to designate the Place as an architectural and historic building. In 2005, the Cerro Castillo was declared a National Monument in the Typical Zone category (recognizing the area as a whole), and the Presidential Palace in the Historical Monument category.
The Cerro Castillo
During Colonial times, the Cerro Castillo was called the “First Sister” hill, since together with the Agua Santa hill they formed the first of seven elevations that designated the land belonging to the Portuguese millionaire trader Francisco Álvarez.
People began settling in the area at the end of the XIX century, associated with the arrival of the Miramar Train Station that began service in 1886.
The Cerro Castillo boasts views of nearly all of the city as well as some of the most popular beach areas. Just below is the iconic symbol of the Garden City: the Flower Clock.
The location is closely linked to Viña del Mar’s history and still today is the site of buildings with enormous architectural value. One of its most important characteristics is that the area remains purely residential, defined by its calmness, a contrast from the constant hustle and bustle of the city just a few meters away.
With a nearly 3-million-peso investment at the time, the Presidential Palace was placed on land belonging to the Fuerte Callao (Callao Military Fort), built after the war with Spain in 1866. Later, during the 1891 Revolution, the fort served as a stronghold for Balmaceda’s troops.
Construction of the 2,260 meter palace was led by engineer Fortunato Castro, under the administration of the North American firm Fred T. Leig.
The building was turned over to the Chilean Government in January of 1930 and media at the time called it “one of the most luxurious and architecturally pleasing structures in South America.”
With reinforced concrete structures and foundations covered in tile, this construction has architectural details from various time periods in Spanish and Mexican architecture, incorporating exterior and interior patios, as well as elements made from wood, iron bars, a series of arches, ornate fireplaces and the use of decorative concrete and plaster molding.
Cannons were kept from the original fort which adorn the gardens. Large brick walls were removed, along with two ammunition storage areas and a casemate, which was where the soldiers stayed. Chile, Valparaíso and Viña del Mar’s coat of arms are proudly displayed on the front of the building.
Structure and Furniture
The building has three stories as well as a basement with several areas designed for work and meetings. The furniture has been changed several times based on modifications made by each president.
The living room, dining room, three terraces staggered on the hillside, the kitchen and bathrooms are located on the lower level.
The President’s quarters are located in the left wing. Among other furniture, it boasts a beautiful desk made from native Chilean wood and covered in a dark leather that accents the impressive presidential chair. It also has a library, console tables in a variety of models, a coffee table with a crystal top and onyx base, and, just as in the dining room, the walls are covered in a fine native wood with rectangular edges.
The second story houses the President’s bedroom and guest bedrooms, eight in total. The master bedroom has an English couch and a Butler table.
The first and second floor house Luis XIV sofas, a Pembroke table, console and English side tables, Queen Anne chairs and Trigalle armchairs.
On the top floor, distributed en two towers, is the library, a radio room, an office and an observatory. There is now also an interior elevator that connects the basement with the top floors.
Throughout the years, the Presidents have used the Palace in different ways. For example, Juan Esteban Montero did not enjoy the house, which led him to consider converting it into an orphanage at one point, but the idea never caught fire. President Alessandri Rodríguez contemplated selling the home. In the end however, he gave in to its beauty and kept the palace.
During Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle’s government, the Arboretum Project was carried out with the aim of reviving the Palace’s park, a 2,500 square meter area that houses native species like palm trees and exotic Araucaria trees.
The palace and its gardens are the traditional location of the official photograph with the President and her cabinet, which will be taken before the State of the Union address on May 21.
The Palace has also been the setting of many important international meetings and conferences, such as the VI Ibero-American Summit, the II Summit of the Americas, the Progressive Leaders’ Summit and the Unasur meeting, among others.