LUGARES MAGAZINE Nro. 65
Page. 60 - 75
By: Rossana Acquasanta
Pictures: Nestor Paz
SAN MIGUEL DE TUCUMAN
The Government House is the clearest expression of French architecture chosen by the progresistas and built between 1908 and 1912 on the exact spot where the old Cabildo once stood. Each and every stone
from that original building disappeared along with any trace of the other buildings dating back to the times of the Viceroyalty. With the exception of the "Casita de Tucumán", which was built between 1760 and 1780, then redesigned several times and finally rebuilt in
1943, there is no other reminder of the origins of the city. The Cabildo had been built on the western side of the main square, so the afternoon sunlight would not dazzle the politicians during their sessions. Today
the government headquarters turn on their lights when the sun goes down and it is a classic image to see it cut out in the Tucumán night by hundreds of fairy lights.
The Plaza Independencia, or Plaza Libertad, has remained where it was designed to be.
Originally built in 1685 it was, 150 years, a barren site with one solitary tree and was where the criminals received their punishment; usually their execution. The first thing that appeared was a federalist pyramid in 1841, followed by the orange trees. Twenty-three years later the pyramid was replaced by a cylindrical column as a remembrance of independence, until a bronze of Belgrano appeared in its place in 1883 and the square was paved with stone brought from Hamburg. Then, in the 20th century, La Libertad, a magnificent Carrara marble statue made by Lola Mora, took the place occupied by the creator of the flag.
At the outset, this settlement in the south of the province that was legitimated by Captain Diego de Villarroel at the request of his uncle, Governor Francisco de Aguirre, and was named "San Miguel de Tucumán y Nueva Tierra de Promisión". This was done on 31 May 1565 when, in Ibatín and on the banks of the Tejar River, this enclave - a necessity
during the building of the road from Río de la Plata to the Alto Perú-was founded. It was a place where the people lived in penury and constant turmoil. When it wasn't the floods and their consequential illnesses
it was the belligerent Diaguita Indians. Finally King Charles II of Spain allowed the city to be moved to the right hand bank of the Salí River - its present location. This happened between 24 and 29 September
1685 by order of the Governor, Fernando de Mendoza y Mate de Luna.
For many years these lands, which included San Miguel, Santiago, Catamarca, Salta, Jujuy and La Rioja underwent a calm and gradual growth. Grand
buildings alternated with the humbleness of adobe, and beyond the urban area smallholdings began to appear until the 19th century. But the rebellion against Spain resulted once again in great upheaval. Everyone actively participated in the Batalla de Tucumán of 1812, fought in the Campo de las Carreras - near the current Manuel de Belgrano
square - named in honour of the hero of the battle - and under the protection of the Virgin de la Merced. There are frescos on the walls of the church of the "Virgen Generala" which recall the bloody days
of the Spanish defeat as if from the coloured pages of an old schoolbook. These naive representations hold as much fervour as the severe bronze reliefs of the Declaration of Independence - another work by Lola
Mora that can be admired outside the residence of Doña Francisca Bazán de Laguna, the setting of the swearing in ceremony on that not so distant 9 of July of 1816.
San Miguel has just been declared an historical city thanks to the efforts of Adolfo Nicolaus, Director of the Tourism office of the city.
In the eclectic cathedral - facing the Plaza de Independencia- the founding wooden cross is retained along with the remains of several celebrated prelates and of the Unitarian General Gregorio Aráoz de
Lamadrid. In addition to this neo-classic site other architectural styles emerged from the middle of the 19th century onwards. A few steps away the San Francisco Church stands where the temple and school
"Santa María Magdalena" of the Company of Jesus, once stood. After the expulsion of the Jesuits and a brief appearance by the Dominicans, it was taken over and rebuilt by the Franciscans. The house that once belonged to Governor José Frías, and was later occupied by his daughter Lastenia and her husband Dr. Angel Cruz Padilla, still stands next door to the Government House. Carved pieces of diverse origins, rich European furnishings, paintings and numerous objects of Chinese art are exhibited in the restored ro ours. The architecture responds to the Italianate trend of the time and is the only such example in this
Around the corner the Museo Folklórico Manuel Belgrano is a good example of a postcolonial home that once belonged to Bishop Colombres. The
Santo Domingo Church or the Basilica de Nuestra Señora del Rosario, two blocks away, was built by the Dominicans and holds an image from Cuzco of the Virgen del Rosario, the oldest one in the province. The residence of Governor José Manuel Silva, which later belonged to his grandson Nicolás Avellaneda, is now the historical museum. It can be easily identified thanks to its terracotta coloured façade only 50 metres from the Cathedral. Known as the House of a Hundred Doors, here you can appreciate the traditional "patio" construction.
The Legislative Building, the Church of the Dominican Sisters and the summer residence of Bishop Colombres are also on the list of 19th century architecture. After entering the 20th century the splendour of Tucumán continued to accumulate examples of a variety of styles up to the art deco period (expressed in the corner of Junín and San
Martín). The façade of the active Centro Cultural Alberto Rougés, the Jockey Club, the former Banco Provincia and the Hotel Plaza boast varying degrees of French academicist styling.
In.the Plaza Alberdi a sculpture by Lola Mora and dedicated to Juan Bautista is also a worthwhile example of the artistic talent in Tucumán. Opposite the square is the Ferrocarril Mitre station, yet another
fine example of 19th century architecture.
The last morning we went to the Fundación Lillo. In the exact place where Miguel Lillo lived between 1862 and 1931 it is dedicated to his great passion, nature. We were amazed by the extent of the valuable
fauna and flora collections. There is a zoology museum and biology, geology and palaeontology halls as well as an incredible library and gardens that gather together an important collection of indigenous
botanical species - all part of the universe of Lillo, whose remains are buried in the garden.
On The Outskirts
Only 12 kilometres along route R302 is this chic suburb that has the virtue of being only a stone's throw from the city while suffering none of its inconveniences. Fresh air. Tree-lined with low houses,
a golf course and a guilt-free siesta culture.
The local painter Luis Lobos de la Vega, known as "Lobito", is 91 years old and continues to create his magnificent impressionist paintings. He has lived here "forever, because I live a monotonous life; I married
at the age of 41 and still live with this marvellous woman, I paint and that's it- I lead a simple life". His talent was present in Expoarte and Artesanía 2000, the first exhibition that gathered an important
number of artists from Yerba Buena, organised by Marta Carrasco and Lucía Fagalde, an unbeatable duo who are already working on the next
Lules and Famaillá
To the south on Route 301. Before the 20 kilometres that lead to the town of Lules one can see Jesuit ruins to the right of the road. What a shame, they are truly in ruins! The restoration work stopped 18 months ago and Nonna Contreras, who has been in charge of this forgotten heritage for 10 years, cannot hide her disappointment; "The rains are damaging what little is left and as the works are not finished no tourists come this way". This little woman from Tucumán sighs and
tells us that the settlement dates from 1613 and is the second oldest in Argentina. The church, with its metre thick walls, is covered in a web of scaffolding with its white wooden altar made of interlocking pieces and a figure of San José, also of wood but clad in plaster
so that it will not deteriorate. Behind the altar is the entrance to the two tunnels, one leads to the hills while the other, blocked in 1975, leads to the San Francisco church of San Miguel.
Beside the temple the remains of what were the cloisters confirm Norma Contreras' fears - they are collapsing. In a corner a shrub stands as a memorial to General Belgrano who rested there after the battle
of Tucumán, which he incorrectly thought that he had lost. This was in 1912. In 1814 San Martín slept there on his way north to relieve Belgrano at the Yatasto outpost. As from 1800 this spot was the San José outpost and in 1878 Lastenia Blanco, the first teacher in the area, arrived. She is buried beneath the shrub next to the entrance to the church.
26 kilometres by Routes 9 and 347. Nothing seems to alter the calm in this neighbouring town of the capital of Tucumán where a family of gourmet artisans lives. Sr. Armanini and his wife Sara proudly showed us their latest creations, orange and tangerine marmalades
and an exceptional red pepper chutney that enhances the flavour of any cold meat. Here any fruit produced by nature can end up in a jar; 25 varieties and a daily production of 120 kilos that have maintained their quality ever since they began 6 years ago.
El Cadillal is a very quiet village with steep roads, lots of green, comfortable homes and the Celestino Gelsi dam that provides the necessary water for its inhabitants.
Simoca. 50 kilometres on National Route 38. The entrance to the town is announced by a monument depicting a carriage, an unequivocal synthesis of what occurs there. The locals use this means of transport to celebrate their weekly open-air market where there are plenty of live pigs and herbal remedies. A colourful and noisy atmosphere prevails.
Small cigars made of corn leaves, spices, and wonderful cheeses. At the butchers we tried rolled pork, a local version of "pork cheese". Whereas the "bolanchao", some grey looking blobs remain a mystery to us - it is made with "mistol" they say - a wild red and round fruit, which is crushed with toasted corn flour. You are not actually supposed to eat but just suck the "bolanchao" which is on display together
with fig jam.
There are varieties of northern patisserie that are also delicious.
Bartering and buying animals without them being weighed is the way that business is done in Simoca.
In The Hills
I am always impressed by the road that zigzags to Villa Nougués amongst woods and shadows up to an altitude of 1250 metres. I am taken by the orchids that live, grasping the damp trunks of the trees and I am fascinated by the world of Vila Lolette, the hotel/house of the García Hamilton family that receives its guests with so much savoir faire. The "Villa" has a relaxed pulse as a result of the heat imposed by nature. On one side the church, and on the other the Terán family inn with houses dotted here and there. Life in Vita Lolette has an eternal air - the hours turn slowly into days. But this time we only
stayed for a meal, which is always a pleasure here. Their chicken and mushroom pies are absolutely delicious and the egg custard a venial sin-difficult to outshine. We then had to rush off to San Javier.
The urgency was because of the hang-gliders. We were on the terrace enjoying the last few morsels when a bright pink sail drifted gently past, almost brushing the top of the trees. It was followed by another and yet another. The blue sky was suddenly full of people flying. How we wanted to be up there like the birds. We wondered if Sergio Bujaza, alias "The Hyena" was still running his hanggliding school
- we would soon find out. When we arrived at Loma Bola, the launching strip, there were hang-gliders scattered on the grass and a group of young people in action. Some taking off while others were landing.
Our encounter with Sergio and his group was delightful and it was clear that our friend was still firmly in charge of the operation.
We continued north immersed in the mountainous green and solitary scenery. On the horizon we could see the Cumbres de Taficillo. We would return to this road two days later with Nicolás Paz Posse, a 23 year old from Raco who organises interesting pony treks and who would tell us about every nook and cranny of the region. "The peak you can see standing out among the rest is Cabra Orco. It s 2,800 metres high; orco means hill." At the side of the road Nico pointed
out a couple of "poleras" polo-practice fields and stud farms where they breed polo ponies.
Nico took us to the cheese factory La Tuquita, belonging to Juan Carlos Perea, which appears to the right of the pavement a bit beyond the fork leading to Raco. We saw the goats, the corrals, the dairy farm
and the fields where the flocks graze to their heart's content. The milk from these goats is used to make cheeses, which can either be bought there or found on sale in the area. Beside it there is a restaurant
where the cheeses are also served. That day the heat was unbearable, so we preferred to settle under a tree eating our cheese and empanadas - it was a lovely respite.
Later we headed southwest, directly to Raco. Here they play the music by Yupanqui because its streets are named after his songs as a memorial to Atahualpa Yupanqui's years of exile there. In the blink of an eye
there is nothing else to see until the scenery opens up revealing hills scattered with very old houses, rivers and streams, trees and horses everywhere. This region gave birth to some estancias after the Spanish Captain García Medina donated the lands to the Jesuits in the 17th century. Raco today is a tranquil refuge from the summer heat as is portrayed by the new properties with their swimming pools.
With no real boundary, Raco is followed by El Siambón, a few houses, a petrol station where they sell local empanandas, the El Siambón Country Club, which consists of a golf course and a sad looking hotel, a spiritual retreat for nuns, the Cristo Rey Monastery of the Benedictines, and that's it.
The interior of the church, minimalist in the extreme, received us with an a capella, Latin sung Mass.
There could not have been more than ten parishioners including a couple of nuns. At the altar the figure of Father Julio Gotelli, Italian, white bearded, thin and strong stood out - his powerful voice dominated
the church with a purity that made your skin crawl. Outside the afternoon was lengthening and a profound calm was settling.
Six kilometres south of El Siambón the tarmac of the only road that links with Route 301 comes to an end. What followed was impassable mud and we were forced to retrace our steps to the city in the gathering
in the fading evening light.