If it seems to you that parts of Santiago resemble a ghost town on Sundays… well, then you’re in the wrong part of the city. This is the time when Santiago’s parks and plazas burst with life, colour and sound as the city’s inhabitants absorb the many cultural events and markets that are a fine virtue of life in the capital. None of these is more charismatic than las ferias de las pulgas, the flea markets, which are a regular Sunday feature of the Plaza Brasil and its nearby sister square, the leafy and peaceful Plaza Yungay.
Yungay Flea Market (photo by Marianne Fuentealba)
This is the old part of Santiago, where the cobblestone streets and old mansion blocks, many of which are today just crumbling shells, provide evidence of the area’s prosperous and grand past. There are a number of beautifully preserved streets and buildings yet there are also many once-magnificent structures that now languish in a sad state of decay that often results in their demolition to be replaced by modern apartment blocks.
The protection and preservation of the Barrio Yungay (and Barrio Brasil to a lesser extent) is a passionately-felt topic among the area's residents which has led to the establishment of numerous organisations and conservation groups with this in mind. These groups are born out of local pride in the area, which, in spite of the modernisation of sectors, remains an image of the old city, and is today home to a thriving artistic community which has taken advantage of the area’s low rents, large spaces and bohemian elegance to make it not only Santiago’s most picturesque district, but also its most vibrant.
Prints For Sale (photo by Marianne Fuentealba)
The strong sense of community that marks the Barrios Brasil and Yungay is at its most evident in the flea markets that alternate between the two plazas. Generally coming to life in the mid-afternoon, once the area’s more traditional fruit ‘n’ veg ferias are closing down for the day (there are excellent street markets on Saturdays at Maturana with Martinez de Rozas and on Sundays at Libertad with Portales), Sundays are a hive of activity as seemingly the entire neighbourhood descends on the plazas.
There are no stalls here, with the various vendors spreading blankets where they can and showcasing their wares on top while they sit back and enjoy the day. The majority are young and are offering stuff that emphasises the area’s bohemian and rebellious identity: punk t-shirts, fridge magnets, home-made comic books and political literature, pirate DVDs, wall hangings, Victor Jara posters, maybe even a box of few-day-old kittens looking for a good home.
Yet in spite of the many good-natured salesmen and women, few people are here to actually buy anything. For this is far more than a simple feria: it is a cultural and community event that actively seeks to represent all the barrio’s residents. There is all manner of performance, from folk music to children’s magic shows, acrobatics to Andean dance, while various workshops are often held which offer classes on percussion, tango or the Mapuche language.
Percussion Workshop (photo by Marianne Fuentealba)
The ferias also act as a public forum where various organisations stage debates and meetings. Feminist groups, local political gatherings, environmental associations and public assemblies welcome the attendance of all, and are easily accessible as they seek to raise awareness on key issues and encourage locals to play an active role in the running of their society. Bringing such groups to these events, and opening them to everybody, encourages a stronger common response and heightens the public's political and social consciousness.
With the culture and community-minded focus of las ferias de las pulgas, it shouldn’t be overlooked that one of the nicest things to do there is kick back on the grass and watch the world go by, as an eclectic crowd mingles through the shady pathways of the plazas. The flea markets are attended by all manner of person, with the elderly resting on benches while dreadlocked youths sell soya burgers and young kids run around with a football or are enthralled by a puppet show. It is a beautifully relaxing way to wind down the weekend, and reaffirms any potentially waning affection for the city.
The ferias are quite randomly staged although when the weather is good they tend to be more or less a weekly event in one of the two plazas. The best thing to do is simply turn up on a Sunday and if nothing is happening in one plaza then head to the other. Even if you arrive on a rare day when the markets are not on, the local area is still one of the nicest in Santiago and offers plenty of attractive options for those lazy days.
From Metro Republica, Line 1: Walk up Avenida Ricardo Cumming and then turn right on Huerfanos to reach the plaza
From Metro Cumming, Line 5: Cross Avenida Cumming, walk one block east along Catedral and turn right on Maturana to reach the plaza
From Metro Cumming, Line 5: Turn right onto Catedral from the station until you reach Rafael Sotomayor and turn right to reach the plaza