The Santiago Metro with 5 lines, 108 stations and 103 kilometres of tracks is South America's most extensive subway system and the fourth largest in the Americas
by annual passenger rides, after the New York City, Mexico City and Sao Paulo metro systems.
Line One, also known as the Red Line, crosses the city from east to west and concentrates about half the network’s total traffic. This is because the line serves highly populated areas of the east and west of the capital and travels through the main civic, financial and commercial sections of the city including numerous important public buildings, the Presidential Palace, shopping centers, several inter-city bus terminals, the main railway station and the headquarters of three of the largest universities in the country.
One of the main stations in Line One is “Universidad de Chile
” (University of Chile), so called because it is located right below the Main Building of Chile’s oldest university. The University of Chile was founded in 1842. It is the Alma Mater of Nobel Prize poets Pablo Neruda and Gabriela Mistral, and of 20 former presidents of Chile.
Few metro stations in the world can compare with “Universidad de Chile”
for its artistic elements. The enormous station resembles a vast art gallery with paintings that bring to mind the extensive religious murals of the Renaissance, the mural art of the Soviet period known as Russian Revival, or the muralist movement of the Mexican Revolution.
The walls of the spacious station are covered with large murals in two sections
totaling 1,200 square meters. The murals created by Chilean painter Mario Toral
were done in acrylic and oil on canvas. They occupy much of both ends and side walls over the station platforms.
The work is entitled “Visual Memory of a Nation
”. It comprises six panels, which are named: “The Conquest”, “Former Inhabitants”, “The Encounter”, “Conflicts”, “Tribute to our Ocean”, and “Homage to Poetry”. The first three, located in the east side of the station, relate to ancient times and were completed in 1996. The last three, in the western sector, refer to more recent events in Chilean history and were inaugurated in June 1999.
Mario Toral’s work is a true visual narrative of epic attributes. It begins with the birth of America, portrays the first inhabitants of Chile, depicts the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors and culminates with the violent clash between the two cultures leading to a new nation and a new society.
The second set of panels reviews Chile’s more recent history in a magnificent, impressive style, which represents scenes of the War of the Pacific, describes the life and conflicts of the coal and copper miners, tells about the accomplishments and recognition to Chile’s greatest poets, and manages to expose the horrors, torture, repression and human rights violations of the military dictatorship.
Describing the second part of his gigantic work, Toral explains
"Here I present scenes of events that have divided Chileans through history, situations where blood has been shed; tragic divisions that descendants have inherited and that separate us as citizens of a land where we should live in peace. I wish I had not had to paint those scenes, but if these paintings respect its title, "Visual Memory of a Nation", it is a moral duty to remember and present them, so we do not repeat the mistakes of the past."
The artistic value of the murals in “Universidad de Chile
” subway station has been recognized by the prestigious travel guide Lonely Planet by the inclusion of this station of the Santiago Metro among the most beautifully decorated subway stations
in the world. Also included in the list are notable locations such as Komsomolskaya Station
of the Moscow Metro, Stockholm’s T-Centralen
, Namur Station
in Montreal, Baker Street
in London, and Syntagma
of Athens, among others.
Related articles on mural artwork:
Photo Essay: 81st Street Station - Museum of Natural History, NYC
The ‘magic’ of Chemainus: From sawmill-town to mural-town
Photo Essay: Explosion of colors at Valparaiso’s Open-Air Museum