LUGARES MAGAZINE Nro. 57
Page. 52 - 61
By: Rossana Acquasanta
Historic Buenos Aires
BUENOS AIRES IN FOUR DAYS
It is better for the visitor to know what there is to know from the start so that he can appreciate where the adventure of the Argentine national began: in the Plaza de Mayo (May Square). From here we will begin delving in the past. In the centre of this rectangle with rounded edges rises the almost Masonic pyramidical May obelisk, and around it are the historical buildings; the colonial style Cabildo - in front of which the residents of this outpost of the Spanish Crown first declared themselves free and independent. The neo-classical Cathedral, where the mortal remains of José de San Martín, the Liberator, lie. The Banco Nación, designed by Bustillo in the middle of the 20th century, with its impressive 50m diameter dome. And the Casa Rosada, more accurately the Casa de Gobiemo (Government House). On Hipólito de Yrigoyen Street you will find the eponymous museum. In front of the Presidential Palace can be seen the statue of Manuel Belgrano, and further down the street on the left of the building the shining bronze statue of Juan de Garay, founder of Buenos Aires. On the corner of Florida -and Hipólito Yrigoyen, the Consejo Deliberante (Legislative Council) is worth at least a glance. Taking the Avenida de Mayo as it runs from the Municipal Palace to the National Congress building one passes, almost with every step, a multitude of different architectural styles of art nouveau and art deco: the Café Tortoni, the Barolo, the former La Prensa building, the Hotel Castelar, the property agent and the Estrella pharmacy...
San Telmo, to the south, was home to the distinguished families during colonial times. After an epidemic of yellow fever in 1871, an area covering 15 city blocks, between Bolívar and Defensa Streets, all the way to the Lezama Park, became deserted. In this area, on Brasil Street, you will be surprised to see the golden domes of the Russian Orthodox Church. There is no shortage of religious venues in San Telmo; alongside the Buenos Aires National College is the Church of San Ignacio (on the corner of Alsina and Bolívar) with its 18th century altar. On Alsina and Defensa you will see the church and convent of San Francisco. On Defensa and Belgrano is the church and convent of Santo Domingo, dating from 1751, and where the remains of General Belgrano are laid to rest. A few steps from the Plaza Dorrego, on Humberto I, can be seen the church of San Pedro Telmo. The area is full of antique shops and at the weekend in the Plaza Dorrego there is an attractive and popular flea market. Finally, located in the block bordered by Alsina, Bolívar, Moreno and Perú, is the famous first site of the University of Buenos Aires, the so-called Manzana de las Luces (Block of Lights).
The port of La Boca del Riachuelo - which was once a centre for a large number of Italian immigrants - is only a step away. But before you go, treat yourself to some grilled delight at La Brigada. Have a coffee in one of the local bars in La Boca and then take a stroll down the famous Caminito and visit the Quinquela Martin Museum. At night try Palermo Viejo, another very typical Buenos Aires neighbourhood, full of the spirit of Borges. Dine, for example, in Freud & Fahler and then enjoy your nightcap in the Plaza Julio Cortázar, on Honduras and Serrano.
Exquisite Buenos Aires
This was inspired by Torcuato de Alvear and, at the beginning of the 20th century, resulted in splendours that remain unsurpassed to this day. It was don Torcuato, father of Marcelo T de Alvear and first mayor of the city, who was responsible for substantial changes to the urban landscape.
Among other things we owe to him the avenue that bears his name (Avenida Alvear) and the Avenida de Mayo, the tree tined streets and green plazas. In order to appreciate the exquisite nature of his contribution to the city just stand on the corner of Alvear and Cerrito. On the one hand is the French Embassy (originally belonging to the Ortiz Basuaido family), which was saved from demolition during the widening of the Avenida 9 de Julio, while on the other is the Bourbon-style Brazilian Embassy. In front of the French Embassy is the pretty Carlos Pellegrini Square with the mansion of the Alzaga Unzué family (now integrated into the Hyatt Hotel) to one side. The elegant Avenida Alvear begins at the jockey Club (once the home of the Unzué Casares family). Another residential palace, that of the Papal Nuncio, can be seen on the way down Alvear towards the Recoleta. The street is a succession of beautiful houses and equally beautiful shops and boutiques.
On the corner with Ayacucho rises the Alvear Palace Hotel and further on the street dips down to the Avenida del Libertador past an enormous gomero (gum) tree and a green park with the Pilar Church (1716) and the Recoleta Cultural Centre at the top beside the famous Recoleta Cemetery, built by Rivadavia in 1822. Here, among sculptures by Lola Mora, fantastic mausoleums, statues, and marble edifices, lie the remains of many illustrious Argentines, national heroes and renowned politicians including Facundo Quiroga and Eva Perón. Another giant gomero tree stands in front of the Pilar Church and the terraces on either side are bustling with cafés and restaurants. Don't miss the chance to enjoy a coffee in the fresh air, sitting at one of the tables at La Biela. When it is time to eat, retrace your steps back to the Alvear Hotel and, after marvelling at the stunning interior, sample the excellent fixed price buffet in the L'Orangerie restaurant.
Turn down onto Posadas and walk along in the same direction as the traffic and you will arrive at the Palais de Glace (on the comer of Schiaffino) with its permanent exhibitions. There are plenty of old houses in this area. Cross Avenida del Libertador and head towards the Museo de Bellas Artes (Museum of Fine Arts) with the monumental Law Faculty of the University of.Buenos Aires rising behind it. If you feel like walking further continue on a few blocks more until you reach Agüero Street. There you will find the Plaza Mitre (named after the General of the same name) with the Biblioteca Nacional (National Library) and a new café behind it on the exact spot where the Presidential residence once stood - another Unzué house - in which Eva Perón lived and died. Rather than walk those extra blocks you can turn into Pueyrredon Avenue as far as the Paseo del Pilar which cuts through the hill. With its statue of General Alvear it crosses back to the Recoleta Cultural Centre. There are many interesting interior design shops and little terraces. To conclude the outing one can take in some classic theatre (Les Miserables or My Fair Lady for example) and then go for dinner at Edelweiss, a restaurant patronised by celebrities and show business folk.
Impressionist Buenos Aires
Day 3 begins with the generous green spaces still surviving in this city where cement and asphalt prevail. On Las Heras and Plaza Italia are the Botanical Gardens, designed by Thays and inaugurated in 1898. Within the Gardens there are thousands of plant species. Across the road is the old Zoo (1892), much improved after some quite recent renovation work. If you leave the Zoo through the back entrance you will be at the junction of Sarmiento and Libertador, and will see the Monumento a los Españoles. Continuing down Sarmiento, at the Paseo de la Infanta, can be found the Planetarium (1968), and now only a few steps from Dorrego and Libertador, entering through Sinclair, is the Rosedal. It is a pleasure to walk through the rose gardens, where all the roses are classified according to their variety. A jewel in the heart of Palermo. Crossing Dorrego and Libertador, the Hippodrome appears on the right and the Palermo polo fields on the left. On Olleros and La Pampa there is the golf course by the Palermo lake, and almost reaching the Costanera Norte is the driving range. There is a restaurant serving good food there, but if you would rather change the theme without having to sacrifice the view of the Rio de la Plata, we recommend either the Club de Pescadores or the Morena restaurants.
Back in the city, take a walk through the elegant Barrio Parque or Palermo Chico, another noteworthy creation by Thays, From Ocampo and Libertador, you have access to this unique neighbourhood, where several splendid properties have been converted into embassies. This chic area extends to the opposite side of Figueroa Alcorta. Taking Libertador again, you can stop at the Museo de Motivos Populares Argentinos José Hernández, another house worth appreciating in detail. On Libertador and Pereyra Lucena, another example of this same style is the Palacio Errázuriz, which houses the National Museum of Decorative Art. Upon reaching Suipacha turn right to visit the Museo de Arte Hispanoamericano Isaac Fernandez Blanco, a magnificent mansion with splendid gardens. The museum holds an important collection of Spanish colonial silver.
And then it's tango time. You can opt for dinner with a show at El Querandí or Señor Tango in
Barracas. But if you would rather not combine the two, you can go first to dine at Dora, an old tavern on Alem Avenue, always full of beautiful people and famous faces, and then listen to tango at Homero. You can also enjoy the real thing (and dance it) at Club Almagro, visited by celebrities such as Robert Duvall, Madonna, not to mention the Duke of York!
Frivolous Buenos Aires
Or almost. As this is the last day, you could spend it shopping, which is quite tempting in Buenos Aires, but only if you have already seen everything there is to see. Such as the Colón Theatre, inaugurated in 1908. The history behind it and the blend of French and Italian architectural styles are well worth the visit. From this, the Mecca of lyrical art, you should head towards Florida, the traditional pedestrian shopping street. If you are still hungry for architectural gems you can go to the comer of Florida and Diagonal Norte, where the Palacio Bencich stands opposite the Boston Bank.
In the other direction, within the block encompassed by Florida, Viamonte, San Martín and Cordoba, is the very French and upmarket Galerias Pacífico shopping mall. Through the back entrance by Viamonte and San Martín, is the Centro Cultural Borges. On the other side of Córdoba, you will see the imposing entrance to the Centro Naval. On reaching Paraguay, you will find the famous café Florida Garden, a real 60's creation. Then turn towards San Martín and take a left turn halfway along the block to Filo. Great people, a different atmosphere, noisy and with good cuisine. Wonderful pizzas and pasta, delicious salads and other Italian dishes to make your mouth water. Then you can walk to Plaza San Martín, going past the traditional and classy Marriott Plaza Hotel. The spacious green square overlooks the river, with its jacarandas, palm trees, tipa trees and mulberry trees as well as the giant gum tree that has cast its shade for centuries. In the middle of the square is the equestrian statue of San Martín, surrounded by properties belonging to traditional wealthy families. Facing Retiro, you can see the "Torre de los Ingleses" in Plaza Britannia, while the Kavanagh building (1936) gives the neighbourhood a touch of modernism amongst the luxurious mansion-like constructions. Between the Kavanagh and the Marriott, you can see the Santísimo Sacramento Church, donated by the Anchorena family.
From Plaza San Martín, go towards Esmeralda and turn onto the delightful Arroyo street, cross the Avenida 9 de Julio and take Posadas until you reach Patio Bullrich, another splendid shopping mall, which will delight your eyes and probably empty your wallet.
Bid your farewells to Buenos Aires from Puerto Madero, while having a superb meal either at Katrine's or the Divino de Buenos Aires, which affords a fabulous view of the city.