2016 World Monuments Watch
The General Cemetery of Santiago occupies a sprawling 210 acres (86 hectares) just north of the city center, and contains more than two million burials. The urban cemetery contains the tombs of all but two Chilean presidents and hundreds of illustrious historic figures, including politicians, artists, and athletes, regardless of religion or socioeconomic background. It also serves as a site of memory, as the resting place of many victims of Chile’s military dictatorship. Monuments range from lavish mausoleums, built in a variety of architectural styles, to humble tombstones and memorials. The cemetery first opened in 1821 by Bernardo O’Higgins—the leader of Chilean independence. Initially administered by the Catholic Church, the cemetery came under the control of the state in 1883 after the passage of a law that secularized cemeteries in the country.
The cemetery began to decline in the 1970s, after running out of land for expansion. Devastating earthquakes in 1985 and more recently in 2010—a month after the site was designated as a National Monument—damaged many monuments, adding to the challenges for the already-neglected cemetery.
The substantial damages caused by the 2010 earthquake undermined any campaign to raise awareness about the site’s designation as a monument. As a result, the cemetery continues to decline. Most of the damaged structures have not been stabilized or repaired and are susceptible to irreparable destruction from future seismic events. Advocates for the rehabilitation of the cemetery fear that the lack of new investment by the city will lead to the complete abandonment and ruin of this irreplaceable record of Chilean history. Inclusion on the 2016 World Monuments Watch aims to raise the international profile of this historic resting place of many important figures from the country’s recent history.
Advocates of the General Cemetery of Santiago organized a sketching contest as part of Watch Day. Close to 80 people, including architecture students and professionals, spent the day at the cemetery, contemplating the 200-year-old site and capturing its inherent cultural values through the act of drawing. The drawings were exhibited at the Universidad Diego Portales and the winning artists received prizes.