Tucked away in a tiny street at the foot of Cerro San Cristóbal is La Chascona, the house the poet Pablo Neruda shared with his third wife, Matilde Urrutia, from 1955 until his death in 1973. It was named La Chascona (“tangle-haired woman”) by Neruda, as a tribute to his wife’s thick red hair. Today it’s the headquarters of the Fundación Neruda, which has painstakingly restored this and the poet’s two other houses – La Sebastiana in Valparaíso and Isla Negra, about 90km down the coast – to their original condition, opening them to the public.
This house, split into three separate sections that climb up the hillside, is packed to the rafters with objects collected by Neruda, illuminating his loves, enthusiasms and obsessions. Beautiful African carvings jostle for space with Victorian dolls, music boxes, paperweights and coloured glasses; the floors are littered with old armchairs, stools, a rocking horse, exotic rugs and a sleeping toy lion. There are numerous references to Neruda’s and Matilde’s love for each other, such as the bars on the windows, in which their initials are entwined and lapped by breaking waves, and the portrait of Matilde by Diego Rivera, which has the profile of Neruda hidden in her hair. The third and highest level houses Neruda’s library, containing more than nine thousand books, as well as the diploma he was given when awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971, and a replica of the medal.