Clustered in the lee of San Cristobel Hill, Bella Vista looks down across the river to the city of Santiago beyond. Bella Vista is a place apart and not just by virtue of its position. Its low, brightly painted buildings and small sunny squares are in sharp contrast to the neo-classical stone grandeur, towering concrete and vast plazas downtown.
Bella Vista is a place of artists and artisans. It was here that the poet Pablo Neruda made his home in the beautiful La Chascona, which today is a museum. The haunting music of the Andes echoes through streets redolent of rustic Chilean fare and lined with theatres, cafes, restaurants and tavernas. It’s a lively, yet laidback, slow-paced place.
Most mportantly, Bella Vista is the heartland of the rare blue-green stone, found only in Chile and Afghanistan – Lapislazuli. Here, in dozens of tiny workshops, craftsmen shape, fashion and set this semi-precious jewel into exquisite and unusual, yet very reasonably priced pieces.
Constructed as part of the remodelling of Santiago towards the end of the 19th century, the Mercado Central, on Puente Street, reflects the wealth generated by the nitrate boom in Chile at this time.
The turreted, towered, neo-classical building with its vaulted ceilings and grand entrances was originally intended as an exhibition building for local artists. However in 1872, President Frederico Errazurriz Zanartu, decided that it would be the Santiago’s Central Market and so it has been ever since.
Today, the Mercado Central is a landmark in the city. It flourishes as a fresh food market which showcases Chilean Seafood and traditional Chilean dishes like seafood stew and Conger Eel Broth.
Like markets the world over, Santiago’s Mercado Central is a kind crossroads, where farmers, fishermen, vintners and orchardists from all over the region mingle with locals and tourists and where there are faces from every race and languages from every corner of the globe.