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.

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