Of the three museums honoring Chilean Nobel Laureate Pablo Neruda, La Sebastiana is the least visited and the most unusual. Named after the carpenter who built it, La Sebastiana sits atop one of the hills of the seacoast resort city of Valparaiso. It is one of several museums that travelers may visit in this port city, seventy-five miles northwest of Santiago during their Chile tours. The house is located in Valparaiso’s Bellavista neighborhood. Visitors wishing to tour La Sebastiana during their travel to Chile take the Bellavista Ascensor to the top of the hill and then wind through backstreets of the colorful neighborhood to reach the house.
Valparaiso held a special spot in Neruda’s heart for two reasons. He had traveled there often after moving to Santiago as a young man. More importantly, it was where he hid out for some months before fleeing the country with the government authorities in pursuit, after Neruda’s criticism of the president. From that time forward, he knew he wanted to return to Valparaiso under different circumstances. Pablo purchased this partially-finished four-story building together with friends and divided it in half, Neruda and his lover, Matilde, taking the top two floors for their residence and their friends, a doctor and sculptor couple, the two below.
The house has a view of the city where the couple and guests could watch ships coming and going from the harbor. They spent less time at La Sebastiana than at their other two homes. A favorite time of year there was New Year’s Eve because Valparaiso’s annual fireworks display in the harbor could be seen from the property.
Much of the once colorful house was destroyed by the tsunami that followed Chile’s 1960 earthquake, swamping the Pacific coast. The repairs and renovations made the house ready to move into in 1961. Neruda included a poem about the house in his collection, Plenos poderes (Fully Empowered), published the following year.
On the grounds of the home is an iron horse, lugged here from Temuco, where Neruda grew up. Two paintings in the foyer were done by Neruda’s first wife, Delia del Carril. He shipped the carousel horse from Paris. The ceiling murals and mosaics on the lower floors were created by the co-owner. Like Neruda’s other two houses, soldiers uniformed as national police, plundered the house after the overthrow of the Allende government, ruining the stained-glass door to the bedroom.
Visitors who travel here on their Chile tours are given access to all the rooms of La Sebastiana, though photographs are only allowed outside. Guests receive information that describes the history of each room. Among its Chile tours, Southern Explorations includes La Sebastiana in its eleven-day Chile and Argentina Wine Adventure.