Pablo Neruda was a well-known Chilean poet, famous for winning the Nobel Prize for Literature, for being a renowned communist and a lover of women and mundane things. His most famous works are “Twenty love poems and a song of despair,” a collection of romantic poems and the “Canto General,” an epic poem that shows Neruda’s commitment to communism. The latter one presents the Latin American history as a big endless fight against oppression. As it has happened with many famous writers, his life story is surrounded by scandal, especially regarding his relationships. There is also a mystery surrounding his death; some say he was poisoned because he was a high-profile Communist, while others say that he got sick. Anyway, if there is something we know is that he was an eccentric man and by visiting his houses you can appreciate just that. The houses are now museums administered by the Pablo Neruda Foundation. Each of them shows a bit of Neruda´s personal life and controversial figure.
It is located in Valparaíso, the city of the endless color, of arts and bohemia. To get to this house-museum, which is located on the Florida Hill, climb up and search for a boat in the middle of the colorful houses.
I feel the tiredness of Santiago. I want to find in Valparaiso a little house to live and write quietly. It must have some conditions. It can’t be located too high or too low. It should be solitary but not in excess. With neighbors hopefully invisible, they should not be seen or heard. Original, but not uncomfortable. Neither too big nor too small. Far from everything but close to transportation. Independent, but close to the commerce. Besides, it has to be very cheap. Do you think I would find a house like that in Valparaiso? -Pablo Neruda.
These were the requests of Neruda when searching for a house in Valparaíso. As expected, he did find a house like that: an abandoned, unfinished mansion that belonged to Spaniard Sebastian Collao (thus the name La Sebastiana, in his honor). The house was too big for Neruda alone, so he shared it with two friends of him, keeping the upper part of the building with the privileged view of the port to himself. You can appreciate this stunning view upon your visit.
Isla Negra means Black Island. It is obviously not an island, but it is black, and it used to be called “Las Gaviotas.” However, Neruda renamed the place the "Black Island" because of the black stones on it. In this house, he wanted to focus and write the “Canto General,” as mentioned before, an epic poem about Latin America´s struggle against oppression.
He got the house from Eladio Sobrino, a Spanish marine. In this house, you will see a lot of different and curious things, among which significant collections mostly related to the ocean. Most notably, you will enjoy the ocean view from his bedroom and get surprised by his oddly placed bed!
Also, Neruda´s body got buried in Isla Negra, as he had asked: “Companions, bury me in Isla Negra, in front of the sea I know, to each wrinkled area of stones and to the waves that my lost eyes won’t go back to see…”.
This house is in the Bellavista neighborhood, Santiago de Chile. The story of this house will give you a sense of why the poet’s love life was considered scandalous. Neruda began constructing this house for his secret love of the time, Matilde Urrutia. She had abundant red hair, so the nickname of the house became “La Chascona.” His love with Matilde was secret because he was married to Delia del Carril. So basically, this house was a secret guarded by Neruda´s closest friends, among them, the famous Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. Diego even did a portrait of Matilda with two heads, and it is worth mentioning that this piece is currently at display in “La Chascona.” At first, it was only Matilde living in the house, but when Neruda got separated from his wife, he moved there with Matilde. An interesting fact regarding this house is that it was almost destroyed after Neruda´s death at the very beginning of the military coup in 1973. It was vandalized because he was a high profile communist. After that, Matilde kept living in “La Chascona,” trying to fix the damages it had suffered, until her death in 1985.
The Pablo Neruda Foundation offers tours through the houses, and the ticket price includes an audio guide in English, French, German, Portuguese, and Spanish. There is no need to make a reservation before your visit; the system is first-come, first-served. I strongly recommend you get there early.
Also, you need to know that the opening hours are different depending on the month of your visit. From March to December the houses open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. Between January and February, the museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday, from 10 am to 7 pm. Keep in mind that the museums are closed on Mondays.
The price of the tickets is for general admission: Ch$7,000 per person. There is also a special admission fee of Ch$2,500 for students and Chileans over 60 years.
There is so much to be told about Neruda´s life, and his houses' history, but I do not want to spoil it for you! As you walk through the houses and hear the audio tours, you will discover it yourself! It does not matter if you love or dislike Neruda as a person or as an artist, touring his houses is an interesting activity where you will see odd artifacts, some of his obsessions and a bit of his life through his belongings.
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