One of the "don't miss" spots I send all my visitors in Chile is to the Ex-Carcel in Valparaiso. Its a place with a ton of history dating over a century, starting out as the armory, then prison, and now a cultural center. The evidence of these historical functions are easily visible when you go walk around there.
The main reason I love this place is that it has a very strong sense of community, something which I otherwise find particularly lacking in the way I experience Chilean culture. At the Ex-carcel, you can go wander, observe or participate. Most of the classes and ongoings are open and welcoming to anybody who wishes, and its acceptable and common to strike up conversation with a stranger (major bonus points in my book). Inside the common spaces, there are dance, music, theater, sports, etc... rehearsals, classes, presentations, etc... In the old cells, many artists have set up workshops. As you enter, there is a small casual restaurant like room where often you can try some tasty homemade or healthy food or snacks, run by a friendly and well liked Mapuche lady. At night on the weekends you can usually catch a show, often with theatrical or circus style, or even a big outdoor party complete with rounds of tasty things to try.
There have long been plans in the making about what to do with the space, and recent newspaper articles describe the new selected plan, which apparently conserves a lot of the positive social, artistic, and historical aspects of the Ex-Carcel, but I wish they would've included some sketches or something as I can't tell to what extent... (English/ Spanish). When I was back in the US last year I remember hearing about and reading about some of the conflicts and protests going on there over what should be done/conserved with the space.
Anyway, for those who haven't been I wanted to include a couple photos and an interesting story. The story isn't necessarily true in entirity as you will probably question in some of the details, (perhaps you've seen the movie Big Fish, I really like the ability to be able to enjoy an interesting story without getting caught up on all details and probable realities) but I like it none the less, it somewhat reminds me of some aspects of Shawshank Redemption.
As it was told to/translated/interpreted by me....
There was a guy that many years ago was in the prison for committing a crime, as he was underage, he was in the juvenile part of the prison, which is towards the back where you now-days go through the circus painted passageway. He was around 16 years old at the time he was playing soccer in the yard and the ball went over the side. He was allowed to go fetch it, and took the opportunity to escape. Years later he found himself back in prison after committing another crime, this time in the main section as an adult. Eventually he escaped by digging a tunnel, though was caught or committed another crime and brought back. Eventually he was released though he said he never felt completely accepted by society and always somehow marked or shamed for being a criminal. The prison was shut down and later became an open space for activities and a cultural center, and the man decided that in the end, it was there that he felt most at home. Til last year when it was shut down during the controversy, he lived inside the Ex-carcel, helping out mostly as a sort of resident handyman.
Anyway, the papers suggest that the project will begin fairly soon. I know all of you haven't been because I've asked, but many probably have, right? If you get the chance, it might be something interesting to check out before it undergoes changes.