La Chascona was the third house that Chilean poet Pablo Neruda added to his real estate collection and is today a museum for visitors during their travel to Chile. The house is located at the base of Cerro San Cristobal in the Bellavista neighborhood of Santiago, an arty district, filled with hip galleries, artisan markets and sidewalk cafes. It is also near the city’s National Zoo where Neruda and his third wife, Matilde, often visited during their own Santiago tours.
The couple found the property on which to build this house of their dreams on their return to Chile after years of exile abroad, purchasing it in 1952. Construction began in 1953 with a living room and just one bedroom. As the couple awaited its completion, Matilde was confined to bed rest to sustain her pregnancy that eventually miscarried. It was to La Chascona that the couple secretly rendezvoused until their relationship became public and they were free to marry. He named their home La Chascona, after Matilde’s distinctive tousled, auburn hair.
To finance the project, Neruda used his winnings from being awarded the Stalin Peace Prize, supplemented by the sale of Matilde’s belongings. While an architect planned La Chascona, Neruda continued to offer up many ideas, suggestions and changes until it became a house designed by a poet. Though it was originally planned that La Chascona would face Santiago and the sun, Neruda asked the architect to rotate its placement to give the house a view of the mountains. That this angle required even more stairs than the original design seemed no matter for Neruda and Matilde in their prime. The many visitors on Santiago tours who tramp through the house today don’t seem to mind either. Pablo designed the furniture. The garden was Matilde’s creation. The couple moved in to La Chascona in 1955.
The original manuscript of Veinte poemas de amor y una cancion desesperada (Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair), is housed at La Chascona. A photograph of Neruda’s hero, Walt Whitman, sits on the desk where he wrote. The tiny rooms of La Chascona allow only a limited number of museum visitors on Santiago tours at one time.
After Neruda’s death, it was to La Chascona that Matilde first returned in the days following the country’s coup de tat. Under the vigilant eye of the police, the following spring, Matilde began rebuilding. Visitors who travel to Chile with Southern Explorations will have the opportunity to visit La Chascona on two of the Santiago tour extensions.