Help from the Kingdom
In 1548 the town council of Santiago asked the Council of Indies for authorization to mint coins in the city, a petition that was rejected at the time.
Many years later in 1732, against the backdrop of the monetary crisis related to the downfall of the mining industry, the toll of the earthquake of 1730 and the lack of money circulating in the economy of the colony, the town council of Santiago again asked the King of Spain to construct a Casa de Moneda.
After waiting two years for a response, an attorney was appointed to represent the interests of our colony before the Spanish monarch so as to attain the funds for the construction of the Casa de Moneda. Tomas Azua Iturgoyen, an aristocrat from Santiago was appointed to carry out this task.
The Spanish Crown did not view this expense favorably as it meant more money going to the colonies.
To overcome this negative scenario, Azua proposed to the King that construction and all associated costs should be assumed by private money. Francisco Garcia Huidobro, a Spaniard living in Chile, received the order from the town council of the capital to construct the Casa de Moneda of Chile.
Garcia Huirdobro seized this opportunity as a good way of doing business and increasing his wealth. After taking on this task, he was appointed the Treasurer in Perpetuity of the Casa de Moneda.
On October 11, 1743, King Philip V signed a royal decree founding the Casa de Moneda.
The Old Palace
In 1749, the first Casa de Moneda began to operate, governed by Francisco Garcia de Huidobro, in the “Old Palace”, an old house on the corner of Morande Street and Huerfanos Street. The first Chilean coins were minted on September 10, 1749. Each one contained half an ounce of gold and bore the bust of King Fernando VI. However, six gold coins had already been minted five years before: three were an ounce each and the other three with half an ounce, and all were engraved with the year of production, 1744.
In 1770, given that the Casa de Moneda was economically profitable, the Spanish Crown decided to take possession of the rights, and terminated the contract and benefits of Garcia Huidobro.
On June 15, 1772, the Spanish Crown formally assumed possession of the “Royal House”, leaving don Domingo de Eyzaguirre in charge. The Casa de Moneda is later moved to the old college Maximo de San Miguel, located where the former Congress building currently is. The facilities were not ideal and so the town council ordered for a building to be constructed exclusively for the purpose of minting coins.
In 1777 the first plans for construction were laid out. Jose Antonio Birt, responsible for constructing the Cal y Canto Bridge, was the engineer in charge of the construction plans. Nevertheless, in 1780 the inspection commission of Lima sent a report rejecting Birt’s proposal.
Meanwhile, since 1755, the Bishop of Santiago, don Manuel de Alday y Axpee visited the Iberian Peninsula seeking help to finish the Cathedral of the “Kingdom of Chile”. The Abate Pedro Toesca, responded to this call for help by urging his brother, Joaquin (who at that time enjoyed the title of “pensioned architect of the court” and was under the command of Francisco Sabatini, architect of the Court of Madrid), to move to the colony, where Royal Governor don Agustin de Jauregui, would entrust him with construction of the Casa de Moneda, Los Tajamares del Mapocho (protection walls against the Mapocho River), the town council, the prison of Santiago, as well as the streets and churches in the provinces.
A Place for the Moneda
In 1782, Toesca sent his plans to Lima for approval after more than a year of preparing the project. The chosen construction site of the building was the Basural of Santo Domingo, behind the convent of the same name and in front of where today stands the Mercado Central.
The work started yet the subterranean waters of the Mapocho River ruined the progress time and again, and eventually caused construction work to stop in 1784. A new place needed to be found.
Toesca’s preferred place to continue construction was a plot on Teatinos Street, which had belonged to Cristol de Zapata and then to the Society of Jesus. In 1784, the land was sold by the school Convictorio Carolino who were the owners at that time.
From the inside
Beyond the architectural process, Joaquin Toesca was responsible for understanding the inner workings the Casa de Moneda needed to have, that is to say, how coins are actually minted.
He visited the Casa de Moneda in Peru to gain knowledge and ideas to apply in Chile.
However, the clash between functionality and splendour soon came to light. While Toesca supported the beauty and quality of the work, the political pressures of the Superintendent and he Governors were stronger; leaving the Italian architect disgruntled and forced to work on other projects. In 1797, Joaquin Toesca resigned.
A short time passed before he returned to the project, this time more creative than ever. However, after an attempted assassination, Toesca died in 1799 without seeing his work completed.
Hands to work
Some of the raw materials used in the construction of the Casa de Moneda are as follows: chalk from Polpaico, sand from the Maipo River, coloured stone from San Cristobal, oak and cypress trees from Valdivia, and twenty types of bricks baked just outside the city.
The balconies, window bars, hinges, locks on the doors, and 24,402 nails of different sizes made their way over from San Sebastian, Spain, directly to Chile to form part of the many details of the Casa de Moneda.
The Royal Governor, Marquis of Aviles, retained the engineer Agustin Marcos Cavallero in Chile, naming him director of the largest construction in the Colony of Chile. However, the King’s orders superseded and Cavallero was replaced by Miguel Maria Atero and Ignacio de Andia Vaerla.
The building took 21 years to be completed and was inaugurated in 1805 by the Royal Governor, Luis Munoz de Guzman. Its total cost was $1 million at that time.
The construction and existence of the Royal Casa de Moneda has, over time, been a great contribution to commerce, mining, and tax collection. Yet, with independence and the heavy cost of wars, the Casa Moneda became almost abandoned.