LUGARES MAGAZINE Nro. 58
Page. 89 - 100
By: Rossana Acquasanta
It is enough to cross the Zárate-Brazo Largo bridge and enter the peaceful lifestyle of Entre Ríos to understand that this province has an unequivocal air of the Promised Land. Cultivated fields touching the horizon, a sky filled with birds, sweet waters granting fertility to the soil and the natural green shades of the Ombuú Palm and Hackberry trees. Most of the inhabitants are of Swiss, Jewish, Savoyard, and Piedmontese descent... the beautiful people of Entre Ríos. Their heart is as generous as the rivers that border their province. They are also a proud people, who are nevertheless always kind and friendly. Because the essence of the "Entrerriano" can be perceived as that of one of belonging, encouraged by yesterday's national heroes, without anger or duplicity.
The first such national figure was born in Concepción del Uruguay, three years after the town was founded and which had been known until then as "Arroyo de la China". This remarkable man was Francisco Ramírez (1786-1821), the son of a cattle breeder who took part in the uprisings in his province, then appointed himself General, Governor and Supreme "Entrerriano" and, after annexing Corrientes and Misiones provinces, proclaimed it the Republic of Entre Ríos. He originally planned to continue his campaign in Paraguay, but instead of going north, he turned towards the south and headed for Buenos Aires. On the way, López - the "caudillo" of Santa Fé - defeated him and Ramírez changed route towards Córdoba. His luck abandoned him and while trying to flee back to home territory, his companion, Delfina was caught. Although he was able to save her life, he lost his own. They cut off his head and sent it to López, who exhibited it in the town hall of Santa Fé. Ramírez was the first "caudillo" of this country, but not the only one in Entre Rfos. Of course, no one could surpass the famous justo José de Urquiza. A man of progressive ideas, a politician with clear ideas and determination but also a successful businessman, he gave his province social and cultural prominence with his hard handed policies and expansionist spirit. He was born in the 19th Century, in the grand estancia that his father owned in the north of Concepción, and his aura was so powerful that even today, the area is widely known as the "lands of Urquiza".
We reached Concepción at night. On the way Julie and I stopped only to buy cheese, bread and cold cuts in one of the many stalls on the side of Route 12, and to fill the tank while we had a quick coffee. We crossed straight through the town and continued our way to Estancia Santa Cándida. Luckily the road was in good shape. Through the gate and at the end of a wide tree lined avenue, the gardens appear and give way to the proud, magnificent house. Here and there statues contribute to the beauty of the place. This property reaches the "de la China" stream and the Itapé rivulet. Inside, Tito, the person in charge, always awaits the guests with a roaring fire, helps them to settle in and even serves them dinner before wishing them a good night. Santa Candida was made by Urquiza. It was created in 1847 as a salting house and as Urquiza's summer residence when he visited his estates. The Tuscan style of the house was built by the Italian architect Fosatti, the same one who intervened in the last stage of the Palacio San José, the Urquiza family residence.
With Urquiza gone, the fate of Santa Cándida alternated through years of oblivion to years of resurgence. Until a grandson of Urquiza, Francisco Sáenz Valiente and his wife Helena Zimmerman, turned the mansion in to a hotel, with seven double rooms and two more identical ones outside the house. Here they organise pony treks, and occasional boat-trips along the river. To the left of the house is the swimming pool, and the sight of the stream can bring nothing but peace to the soul. To reach Santa Candida by boat is a great adventure.
The small city of Concepción has a very well maintained square which, is surrounded by classical historic buildings. The Immaculada Concepción Church, where Urquiza's remains rest in peace and where his tomb is made with the best Carrera marble. Until 1976, the interior of the church, its walls and ceiling were covered with frescos, and even the columns were decorated with trompe l'oeil designs by the famous Uruguayan painter Juan Manuel Blanes. Unfortunately, that year a new priest took charge of the parish and decided to scrape off all the paintings, and to hell with all the invaluable heritage of sacred art. If you want to have a clue as to what the church looked like before, ask to see the black and white photos that can be found a the Delio Panizza Museum.
A few steps away is the Colegio Nacional, built, of course, by Urquiza, with its very impressive library, still with the original desks and old books protected under glass.
The house of Delio Panizza is one of the oldest in the city. Converted into a historic museum, it has antique furniture, a fabulous collection of local silver and coins dating from the 18th century, which are very similar to those currently in use, clothing, arms, and deluxe riding gear. Colonia San José is located only 9km from Colón, by Route 130. The enclave is small, but the inhabitants have a high degree of self esteem, and are proud to show the town's attractions. One is the Forclaz mill, built in 1888 and a reproduction of the typical Dutch windmill. Of course, in these lands there is not enough wind to make it work, so there it was left, permanently idle. Their other source of pride is the renewed Museo Histórico Regional de Colonia San José. An absolute marvel. This museum, which was originally made with contributions from descendants of the founding families of the town, has become an amazing display attaining the highest international standards. Don't dream of thinking you will just drop in quickly and slip out. You will be in there for hours on end.
El Palmar National Park is full of palm trees, as you would expect. Thousands of Sygarus yatay palms, literally thousands. An enormous stretch of tall and thin trunks with green manes on the top, only interrupted by the course of the River Uruguay, the jungle-like vegetation on its banks, the ruins of the Barquín limestone quarry, the information centre and the campsite. There are paths for vehicles, and one for pedestrians. The best visiting hours are in the late afternoon. The immense silence combined with the strident screeching of the birds. Foxes, capyneroas, ostriches, alligators, vizcachas, I did not see. However, I did spot an empty ballpoint pen at the foot of a palm tree, as well as a good amount of wrappers and bottles around the lookout point. Frankly, with the entrance fee they charge, they could well look after the place a bit better.
The Palacio San José: We arrived on a beautiful sunny morning, and entered through the back door, the one usually used in the times of Urquiza. The same door used by the assassins that killed our national hero. The magnificent chapel with the Blanes frescos, is currently being restored. Even with the works going on, the place still imposes respect. The palace - designed by the Italian Pietro Fosatti - is built around two patios: the Patio de Honor and the Patio del Parral, which in summer casts a delightful shade. In the gardens, a path leads to the lake and the gazebo. For the princely sum of one peso you can, if you wish, be taken down this path in a horse drawn carriage.
On the way to San Pedro. The ranch that once belonged to Doña Justa (Urquiza'a daughter) and her husband, General Luis María Campos, the scenery continues to gratify the eyes with its lovely green fields and hackberry trees along the side of the road. A pond to the left of the path indicates we are near the house. On this mirror of water there is a figure of a deer pursued by hounds. The path itself winds amongst eucalyptus and tipa trees and leads to the house, which is a combination of Colonial and Tudor styles, dominating the 180 hectares of parkland. Inside, the house is a profusion of historical treasures, fit to be in a museum. There is not a corner or wall which does not have an emblematic trace of the past; furniture, photographs of the war with Paraguay, the campaign camp bed used by Campos, military uniforms, amazing silver and historic documents such as a letter from Napoleon III to Urquiza. The Roca family currently owns and runs the estancia. They have a public school on their grounds for the children of the estancia's employees, as well as for the children in the neighbourhood. Everyone who stops here gets the chance to see all the facilities, including the school, infirmary, workshop, bakery, grocery store, etc. San Pedro has no lack of historical entertainment, as well as a host of open-air activities to be enjoyed.
Paraná received us with cold temperatures and rain, but once we reached the Gran Hotel Paraná, we no longer cared. Our rooms were warm and welcoming, the bathrooms were first class and the beds so comfortable that we had to make a real effort to get up. The hotel is on the 1° de Mayo square with the municipality building on the corner and the school on the other corner, next to the San Pedro Cathedral.
We awoke to a lovely bright day. What a pleasure it was to wander through the capital city of Entre Ríos, and discover that it barely has any high rise buildings and plenty of residential homes of great architectural value. There are also quite a few green squares and picturesque streets lined with orange trees.
In Paraná there is a kind of feeling of gratitude towards the river, wide and wealthy as it is, with all its little islands. A stroll through the city will invariably lead you to the magnificent Parque Urquiza, with its colourful flowerbeds and beautiful green plants, and steep banks leading to the incredibly vibrant promenade. On the other side, the sand and fresh water, the small stops to eat fresh fish, the clubs and restaurants, the port, boats, customs building, the old warehouses, all those people who enjoy their Sundays out here until the very last ray of sun has disappeared. Paraná is a city to be experienced thoroughly, visiting its churches and museums. The Museo y Mercado Provincial de Artesanías, with handicrafts, silver and pottery. The Museo del Mate, founded in 1978, and with 2500 different mates on display...
There are also the old, controversial tunnels of Paraná, which no one likes to talk about, although there are stories of black slaves, Jesuits, and underground labyrinths which sound fascinating and mysterious.