When searching for a coastal respite in Valparaíso, Pablo Neruda related the following specifications to his friend, Sara Vial,
"It may not be too high or too low. It must be solitary, but not in excess. I wish neighbors were invisible. I wish I did not see or hear them. Original but not uncomfortable. Very light, but firm. Neither too big nor too small, far from everything. But close to the stores. As well, it has to be very inexpensive. Do you think I can find a house like that in Valparaíso?”
Miraculously, "La Sebastiana" fit the vast majority of his requirements. Originally constructed by Spaniard Sebastián Collao, the structure brimmed with character. The third floor had been a birdhouse, the terrace had been created to serve as a heliport, and the house was capped by a tower. Windows with pristine views of the ocean and city resembled ships' clerestories.
The one drawback: Neruda felt it was too large. After three years of finishing and quirkily furnishing the house, Neruda and his third wife, Matilde Urrutia, moved in with joint-owners and close friends Doctor Francisco Velasco and his wife. It was agreed that Neruda and Urrutia would occupy the top two floors and tower while Velasco and Martner would reside in the lower portion of the house. Neruda later joked that he had gotten the worse half of the bargain, "I bought nothing but stairs and terraces,” knowing full-well that these features afforded him a nearly 360-degree vista of the bay.
La Sebastiana served as the poet's residence at the time he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Neruda was so greatly inspired by his dwelling that he penned a poem in her honor,
I established the house.
First I made it from air.
Then I hung the flag in the air
and left it hanging
from the sky, from the star
from clarity and from darkness…
And so it remained until Neruda's death. However, immediately following the military coup in 1973, La Sebastiana was ransacked in retaliation for Neruda's outspoken support of the previous regime. Thanks to private and public funding the house was returned to its original condition and an interpretive center was created in the garden area, both of which opened to the public in 1991.