LUGARES MAGAZINE Nro. 38
Page. 76 - 83
By: Soledad Gil
Pictures: Federico Quintana
ROOTS OF OUR HERITAGE
We started out just as Hernando de Lerma - founder of the city- did in 1582, at the main square. Immediately we perceived the essence of Salta, colonial and formal, quiet, even indolent. For this reason we didn't hesitate to book into the Hotel Salta, located on the corner of Caseros and Buenos Aires streets, where everything happens. It takes time to experience Salta. No point in running from one museum to another, so we thought we'd sit cm a park bench to observe our surroundings, and found that opposite from us stood the former Town Council building, the oldest one in the province, presently the Historical Museum of the North (Museo Historico del Norte). We set out to visit it. We were welcomed by Teresita Gutierrez, who explained that this building had belonged to the government until 1889, after which its fate changed and all those beautiful archways overlooking the elegant square were filled with clothes shops, restaurants and fruit stalls. Fortunately, Senator Carlos Serrey expropriated it in 1936 and the ill-treated "Cabildo" was proclaimed a National Historical Monument in 1946. The spacious rooms, display three important periods of Salta,- indigenous, colonial and liberaltherefore a guided tour (there is one every hour) is the best way to grasp a comprehensive historical understanding of the place.
We returned to the square and from the same spot we saw a ray of sunlight pointing out the lovely statue of Arenales, surrounded by 14 women, which was made be Arturo Dresco. We did the classic tour through the Cathedral, situated north of Plaza Mayor. There we were told of the legend which speaks of how God and the Virgin of Miracles protected the city during the 1692 and 1844 earthquakes. The original temple was already built when the icon of Christ Crucified arrived in 1593. In one of the naves, one can read "this is the genuine icon of Our Lord on the Cross, sent by Bishop Victoria from Spain to this church in 1592. Miraculously it arrived floating over the waters to Callao, from where it was brought to this city."
Intrigued, we continued our tour, where we learnt that the new church, painted in strong yellow shades, was built by Monseigneur Risso Patron between 1854 and 1878. The funds were obtained by means of the highest taxation of those times, the tax on salt.
In the cathedral rest the remains of three outstanding national figures: Güemes, the Incorruptible, Alcarado, the Equanimate and Arenales, the Austere. The remains of other famous personalities involved in the rich history of Salta also rest in this fascinating building.
In the heights of the San Francisco Church.
Carlos Mamamis began to work in the church of San Francisco in 1948, at the age of 17. He is the sacristan and guide of the church museum. He tells its story over and over again, but with renewed enthusiasm, like someone taking great pride in showing his house to cach new visitor. As he is no longer able to climb the steps to the belfry, he now has a 17 year old assistant, Sebastian Flores, who is in charge of this and other similar tasks. The Franciscans have been in Salta since its foundation, even before the Jesuits. However, almost two centuries came to pas, before the grounds promised by Lerma to build the San Francisco church were made available. The terracotta and deep yellow colours combine beautifully- with the city. However this church is not only an architectural icon. In 1867, it opened its doors to refugees when the city was invaded by Felipe Vareta, and has also served to shelter victims of the cholera epidemic through the years 1886 and 1887.
We then visited the most precious library in the region, in the "Complejo Cultural San Francisco", which displays its 15,000 volume,, several printed before the 16th century. In the church we visited the wax icon of San Severo made with the bones of this saint.
Once outside, Sebastian took the trouble of explaining us the difference between belfry and bell tower, the latter is the tower that begins from the ground upwards with the bells on the top, the first starts out from the roof of the church. The San Francisco belfry measures 54 metres and is the highest in South America. Designed by Father Giorgi, and built by Francisco Righetti, it was inaugurated on October 4th 1882, for the 700th anniversary of the birth of San Francisco. Knowing its history we were determined to climb up to the top to have a closer look at it. I vividly recall how our presence disturbed some pigeons and when they began to flutter I was so startled I almost fainted. Despite this insignificant incident, the view from the top of the church is extraordinary, and well worth the effort.
Back on the ground, we thought that we had seen practically all there was to see. But alas no. We met Horacio Bertero, a talented silversmith, originally from San Antonio de Areco, who proudly showed us his incredible collection of objects made in silver including "mates", beautifully carved knives and other priceless items. We went out for lunch with Bertero to It Garcia, one of Salta's jewels as far as restaurants are concerned, others also highly recommend are La Casona and the famous Patio de las Empanadas. We left the visit to the San Bernardo convent for the end, which for the past 150 years has been run by the Carmelite Order. The stunning gates made of carob tree wood is older than the convent itself, and was donated by a family whose daughter entered the convent to become a nun. When the shadows casted over the convent we decided to climb the Cerro San Bernardo, the local's favourite place for cycling or jogging, and to watch the colours change over the city at sundown. We reached it only one day before the opening of a new café and restaurant, with the best view overlooking the city.
Peace in San Lorenzo.
We couldn't leave Salta without at least a short visit to San Lorenzo village. On our way there we were taken aback by the amount of private neighbourhoods which are been built. However, San Lorenzo is as green and peaceful as ever. It maintains its delightful micro-climate, which makes the summer season so much more pleasant for the tourists, as well as the winters for the permanent residents. Speaking of which, the number one resident is Ines Ortiz de Cardenas, who exchanged 10 years as a librarian in the city of Salta for the tranquility of her estate Arnnga located on the banks of the Castellanos River.
This six bedroom house is the leader in receiving guests over the past 14 years. Those who choose it are able to enjoy its amazing location, lovely gardens, swimming pool and horses. Needless to say, Ines is the perfect hostess. As far as hotels are concerned, a new one, impossible to ignore is Eaton Place, which belongs to Eugenio Iturrieta. It has a magnificent swimming pool and the ideal guest house for those who want complete independence but like to be well looked after. A different alternative is Werner Grafe's Selva Montana, in the heart of town, with its comfortable 18 rooms. It is more suitable than Eaton Place for families with young children, however meals are not served here although you can always resort to a nearby delivery service or go out to a restaurant in the region. Besides, it's the only hotel frcnn which tourists are picked up by Movi-Track.
This hotel was the one we chose to spend the night, awaiting our guide Federico Norte to come for us the following morning and begin a three day journey where we would experience all sorts of exciting adventures.