Thursday, 28 November 2013

Cemetery or tourist attraction?

May seem a bit dismal visiting a cemetery on our holidays, but the truth is that the Sara Braun Cemetery, in Punta Arenas, is a tourist attraction, actually is one of the most visited tourist attraction of the city, tourists from different  parts of the world enjoy visiting it, in an organised tour or individually.

The virtual site, Tripadvisor, ranked the Sara Braun Cemetery #2 of 19 attractions in Punta Arenas, and there are 206 reviews. Also 226 visitors rated it and the results are:
95 voted excellent
86 voted very good
23 voted average
2   voted poor

On December 7th 2012 the Sara Braun Cemetery was designated National Monument in the category of Historical Monument. The declaratory reads: "The historic value is evident in the set of influences of different nationalities of immigrants who arrived in the region in search of a better future and that created the Magellan culture. In this place rest the pioneers, settlers and traders who made the city a point of reference in southern Chile, providing History, tradition and legends."

Also it has been ranked by CNN as the top ten beautiful cemetery in the world.

The cemetery is located in the main road of Punta Arenas, Avenida Bulnes.
It boasts a solid material porch surrounded by walls of the same material. Inside surprises the visitors with a central square, long avenues of Canadian cypresses, magnificent mausoleums built in the early decades of 20th century, richly ornated in bronze, marble and iron, monuments and posthumous tributes that bring interesting stories about the people that colonised the region.
All that together form a strange but beautiful place that has achieved international recognition.

The cemetery was inaugurated on the 9th of  April 1894 replacing the small one.
The porch and the walls were built between 1919-1923 by the engineer Fortunato Circutti and the decorative elements by artist Pascual Borich, financed by Sara Braun and her father Elias Braun.

One of the most interesting stories about people buried in that cemetery is actually about Sara Braun, it is said that she gave everything for building the porch of the cemetery but on the condition that after her death, the central door of the place had to be closed forever. Although the local authorities have not confirmed if such clause exists the fact is that the central door was closed after Sara braun's funeral and has been kept closed until now, the public make their entrance by lateral doors. (see blog: "The colony became city).

The avenues of Canadian cypresses are what most impress visitors: 660 cypresses elaborately sculpted in form of chubby fingers, some of them already reach 12 meters high. Trimming is performed annually between the months of May and August, depending on the weather it could take 3 month of completion.
A team of 5 gardeners spend about 30 to 45 minutes to trim a tree, however the highest ones may take more than two hours. 2 men trim the lower branches of the tree and 3 the highest ones.
The management of the saint field pays close attention to maintenance and cleanliness of the avenues.

Also the cemetery is known because of its attractive stories related to the mausoleums and monuments that turn the place in a magical mystery environment. My favourite story is related to a mausoleum which is right of central square. It is a love story. An Croatian immigrant, Giovanni Perusovic, arrived to Punta Arenas in 1900 and opened a barbershop in the main street, Calle Boris. Shortly after he met a young woman from Venice, Juana de Polo, and fell in love with her at first sight and not lingered to marry. It is said when they had their first child, a boy, their happiness was completed.
However their happiness was short lived as Juana died few years later.
Giovanni could not find solace in the lost of his lover, so he embalm her body and built a mausoleum recording in the wall: "REST IN PEACE, JUANA." And weekly he use to come to the mausoleum to make up her and comb the hair of his beloved wife, thus keeping their eternal love.
Later their son moved to Buenos Aires and after the death of Giovanni the mausoleum was abandoned and in 1960 was sold and the words Giovanni had engraved on the wall were erased by a black painting.
To built a mausoleum in the main square of the cemetery was really an act of love for a barber shopper because it was too expensive, however he spent everything he had to build that place to give eternal peace to his lover. Her remaining was moved to other place of the cemetery.

Also as a custom in South American cemeteries this one has a display of popular religiosity. It is about an Aborigine that was murdered in 1930 in a confused episode involving marble mine workers in the Diego Almagro Island. The body was taken to the morgue of Punta Arenas for investigation however nobody claimed his body so the cemetery management donated a grave and buried him. Few years later candles and coins started to be placed around the grave also letters of gratitude for being helped by the indian. The belief that he granted miracles spread quickly, so the coins in a considerable quantity began to be regularly collected and donated to the Red Cross of Punta Arenas. Later a place of veneration was built and also a safe was place to facilitate the collection of the coins.

Also there are interesting stories about pioneers resting in that place.
The oldest grave is that of Margarita Vives Siel, who was murdered in 1894.
The first concrete grave built in the cemetery was also in 1894, Osvaldo Wehrharan.
The first mausoleum built belonged to Spanish Society.
And a curious Egyptian pyramid grave-shaped with the names of James and Donald Miller engraved in it.

Dr Thomas Fenton, from Ireland, was an inspired pioneer who came to Punta Arenas in 1875 as the Magellanic territory's first medical officer. Few years later, 1877, his medical skills were tested when he had to attend to the victims of a violent riot that left some of members the small population serious injured as Mrs Maria
Dr Thomas also personally managed his sheep-ranching business, actually in a letter to his mother he mentions the success of the business and his plans for moving away from practise the medicine in order to expand the business.
In his tomb there is a monolith that symbolises the gratitude of the people of Punta Arenas for services rendered by Dr Thomas fenton.

Also there are interesting monuments that worth to know, for example the monument in honor of  Earl Maximilian Von Spee, German navy vice-admiral, in recognition of his bravery in a naval combat in Falkland Island during World War I. The story related to this monument is about the German cruiser SMS Dresden which was the only ship to escape destruction at the mentioned battle, when the British cruisers Inflexible and Invincible sank four of Von Spee's ships. During several months the Dresden avoided capture by the British navy seeking refuge in the network channels and bays in southern Chile supported by Albert Pagels, a local German fisherman. However when the Dresden put into an island off Chilean coast, in Cumberland bay, the British ships Kent and Glasgow found her. But once again the Dresden avoided capture, the captain Fritz Emil Von Luedecke managed the situation ordering his crew to abandon the ship and scuttle it.

Another respectable monument is a plaque in memory of those who died after the screw sloop HMS Doterel exploded.
At about 10:15am on 26th April 1881, while the ship was at anchor off Punta Arenas, the accidental explosion occurred sinking the vessel in minutes causing 143 deaths, only 12 members of the crew survived, including the ship's captain. their remains were buried in the old cemetery but later transferred  to the new one,Sara Braun Cemetery.
The plaque records the names of the victims. Also a marble memorial tablet was placed in The Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, London.

Would you celebrate new year in a cemetery?
Well, Sara Braun cemetery is one of the Chilean cemetery that keep their doors open at 31 December- January 1,  from 11pm to 1am for those who want to celebrate new year, respectfully, in the grave of their beloved ones. Believe me, not few do it.

Beauty, History and architecture are some of the tourist attractions of Sara Braun Cemetery, unmissable, recommended.

to book a two hours guided tour, contact:
Regina Braga
phone: 957223458

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

the colony became city

The 125.000 inhabitants of Punta Arenas soon will celebrate 165 years since its foundation which was on 12 December 1848.

Since its foundation many foreigners came to the city attracted by the policy of colonisation that decreed Punta Arenas a "free port", which marked its economic development as the settlers set up all type of trade. Also the emergence of steam ships contributed to the increase in traffic through the Strait of Magellan which arose the interest of Chilean government to invest in that small colony.

We can relate the economic development to three remarkable characters: José Nogueira, Elias Braun and José Menendez, although not the only ones.

In 1874, Elias Braun, from Latvia, which at that time was ruled by Russia, arrived to Punta Arenas with his wife and four children, fleeing the persecution of Jewish population. The young couple supported by the Chilean government received a small land, material for construction, animals and food supply for six months.
Feel years later, the Braun family already controlled 1.300.000 hectares of land in the Chilean and Argentinean Patagonia, their farms produced millions of tones of wool, 700.000 kilos of leather and 2.500.000 kilos of lamb meet yearly.

In Punta Arenas, Elias Braun met José Nogueira, a Portuguese sailor, who had arrived to the colony in 1886 and was engaged in the hunting of sea wolf. Eventually he amassed a great fortune from the skin trade and invested in a variety of business in all  the Patagonia.

At the same time, in 1886, José Menendez, Spanish, arrived in Punta Arenas after acquiring the business trade of guanaco skin and ostrich feather that belonged to a Argentinean trader. Feel years later, Mr Menendez already was the most influential man in all the Patagonia, actually he became known as "the king of Patagonia."

It´s interesting to say that none of these three men had a significant initial capital but they took advantage of every and each business opportunity open to them. Also their business and their family intertwined, José Nogueira  married Elias Braun's daughter, the young Sara. Mauricio Braun married José Menendez's daughter, Josefina, merging the three great fortune of the region.

After feel years married, José Nogueira died from tuberculosis, being Sara Braun his only heiress, which fortune she managed successfully despite her young age. In 1910, she already managed 2 million hectares of land and 1 million head of cattle, also managed business of shipping trade and industry. An impressive power for a young woman from 19th century, actually there are contradictory opinions about her personality, some say that she was an open minded person and generous but eccentric in some ways. Others say she was cruel with her employees and took her life very lonely. However she certainly was the most influential woman in all the Patagonia.

Meanwhile, Punta Arenas was no longer a colony of small wood houses, but a elegant city of the belle-epoque with petite-hotels and triumphant immigrants educating their children that eventually became remarkable celebrities as politicians, doctors, writers, executives, farmers, etc.

In 1895, Sara Braun inaugurated her palace which construction had been projected by J Nogueira two years before his death. The mansion was designed by the french architecture Nuna Meyer and constructed in a privileged area, in the same heart of the city, which has a elegant facade and a conservatory of metal structure in which is still cultivating a centenary foliage. Also the furniture and decorative elements were within the current vogue and art noveau. The set, mostly composed Renaissance style, Louis XV and XVI. The ornamental statues of marble and bronze, lamps, vases and utilitarian items all were brought from Europe, mostly from France and England.  The paintings were bought in Paris with themes focused on nature and from traveller artists passing through Patagonia.

In 1955, in hers 93 years of age Sara Braun died, she left no children then her fortune was inherited by her nieces and nephews who sold the mansion to a group of local residents who were interested in preserving the history so to accomplish this purpose they founded "The Union Club of Punta Arenas".
Then 4 December 1981 the palace of Sara Braun was declared National Monument.

Today the palace is a show of the belle-epoque in the Region of Magellan and receive many visitors all year. Also in the mansion the exclusive hotel José Nogueira is in function with 22 rooms keeping the architecture of 19th century. A bar, Shackleton Bar, which preserve most of the memorabilia of the residence. Also a underground pub, La Taberna, a interesting area which meet local residents and tourists. The glass house is today a restaurant that present a singular atmosphere.

When Sara Braun left her homeland, Talsen, she was 12 years of age, she never imagined she would be so rich being so young. No doubt she made history in the Patagonia.
As a benefactor one of her outstanding works is the Sara Braun Foundation which gives economic support for university students that have excellent academic performance. Her foundation benefit yearly students from every part of Chile.
Also she made good donations for the city, for example the build in which works the Red Cross of Punta Arenas and the arcade of the cemetery of the city which bear her name, it is  her most popular donation. It is said that when she donated the arcade she requested that only her body would make entrance from the main door of the cemetery, actually that door has been locked after her funeral and never open again as the entrance to that place is by the side doors.
Her mausoleum occupies a large extension in south wing of the cemetery and, how she wished, a remembrance of her homeland, Russia.

Tourist attraction: Sara Braun Palace, Muñoz Gamero Square

Entrance of the mansion

Entrance of the pub, La taberna

Restaurant Hotel José Nogueira

Entrance Hotel J Nogueira

Tourist Attraction: Cemetery Sara Braun /Mausoleum Sara Braun

Recommendation: Book- Palacio Sara Braun, Icono Patrimonial de Punta Arenas.
                                       (Sara Braun Palace, Heritage Icon of Sand Point)
                            Author: Mateo Martinic and Dante Baeriswyl
                            Edition: Club de la Union, Punta Arenas

The book brings together in a single document all about history, architecture, decoration and the art gallery of the mansion that belonged to Sara Braun. It is a two hundred pages book with wonderful photographs, both current as of time, that makes manifest the importance of this heritage asset.