My Favorite International Cities - #19 - Buenos Aires
First published September 14, 2022 by the Morning News and SCNow d reproduced here with permission.
Buenos Aries is the largest city and capital of Argentina with over 15 million population in Metro including 3 million in City. Along with Rio de Janeiro, it is the most visited city in South America. It has lots of similarities to Rio but is probably more diverse than Rio, since immigrants have come from all the world. Like Rio it has hosted many international events including the Pan American Games and also the World Cup twice; it hosted a G20 economic summit in 2018. The name means “Fair/Good Winds” borrowed from the Virgin Mary of the Fair Winds Shrine in Sardinia. The city lies along the ocean and the large Rio de la Plata (River of Silver). The locals call it “BA” and/or “Baires.” I have been to Buenos Aires only once, but I love it still.
The Spanish first came in 1516, led by Juan Diaz de Solis, and the town was established in 1536 by Pedro de Mendoza in the area now called San Telmo. The Europeans fled Buenos Aires in 1542 from the indigenous peoples to return in 1580 when it was re-established by Juan de Garay with larger force. Trade formed the basis of its business, and it remains the largest port in South America, but trade was hampered by the Spanish efforts to control trade from Seville, Spain, through Lima, Peru, to avoid the English and other pirates. But Peru is a long way from BA; Spanish rule thus fell out of favor. The British were even cheeky enough to invade in 1806 and occupy BA. Finally, after some internal fighting, the locals were able to control the city and start a Revolution against Spain in 1810, commemorated by a May national holiday, more-or-less successful by 1816 with the assistance of Jose de San Martin, along the way they also fought off French influence in 1848. By about 1860 the locals were able to align most of the rest of Argentina to their cause and Buenos Aires was made the national capital.
Major development and construction followed from 1880 to 1930 and again from 1945 to 1980. During this time there was immense immigration from Italy and Spain and also the rest of South America; later immigration came from Eastern Europe and recently from China and Taiwan. It became a center for theatre, radio, television and films. Rapid growth led to social upheaval and a rise in poverty, feeding a movement called “Peronism” led by Juan Peron, including a time of civil war. Peron was in and out of political power until 1974 when he was succeeded by his third wife, Isabel, for two years. Peron’s second wife, Eva/Evita, was probably more popular and famous than Isabel; Eva’s body after her 1952 death was literally moved around the world, returned to Argentina in 1974, and since 1976 rests in a well visited and fortified Recoleta mausoleum in BA. Remember the song and play “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” by Julie Covington, written by Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice, MCA, 1976. The military intervened in 1976 using unexpected ferocity with some 30,000 “disappeared” people. BA returned to civilian control by 1996 and mostly stabile ever since. This modern area saw large freeway development for auto traffic and removal of slums, but these efforts still are poorly received by the locals.
BA hosts an astonishingly 300 different plays each weekend so you must at least peek in at the Kirchner Cultural Center (the Jewish population of BA is about 10 times that of Rio) and the Teatro Colon Symphony Hall. Not to mention symphony halls (8), live play theatres (45), museums (189) and bookstores (735, the largest density of bookstores worldwide, don’t miss El Ateneo). Prominent museums include MALBA, the National Museum of Fine Arts, Fundacion Ripora, Faena Arts Center, the Usina del Arte, the Buenos Aires Museum of Modern Art, the Wuinquela Marin Museum, the Evita Museum, the Peace Palace and the Palais de Glace. One day in November most museums are open free to the public for almost 24 hours (the Night of the Museums). The best art may be the street art usually most vibrant on weekends particularly in the barrios of San Telmo, Recoleta, Palermo, Villa, Urquiza, and Coghlan; one Sunday, Shirley and I with close friends spent all day in San Telmo and took a free Tango lesson, too. I don’t think the locals sleep over weekends.
Argentina is famous for the Tango dance originating in its bordellos and now spread around the world. It was influenced by African, Cuban-Spanish and local music and dances. It was soon viewed as sexual and banned for a time in 1910 moving to Europe, Russia and the United States, finally coming back to Argentina during the Peron era, but not fully embraced again until 1984. Now the Tango is a tourist backbone with dancing in streets, in clubs, in supper clubs and in large, commercial halls. You can buy tickets at the doors, on the streets and in your hotels, but I would suggest the hotel tickets as they usually provide transportation. Usually your cameras are welcome, but most halls sell commercial photos, too. And while enjoying the show, consider some Mate, Malbec wine, Fernet, or Sangria- all favorites in Argentina.
Other major tourist attractions include the Cabildo government center (1610), the Kavanagh Building (1934), the Metropolitan Cathedral, the National Library, The Obelisk, the Palace de Aguas Corrientes, the Garibaldi Plaza, Mayo Plaza, the American Express Plaza and the Jose de San Martin Plaza with various monuments and streets dedicated to The Liberator (his death is now a National Holiday celebrated the third Monday of August), the Nereidas fountain, the Recoleta Cemetery, the Floralis Generica, Casa Rosala and the Ave de Julio (the widest street in the world). BA has some 250 parks and green spaces, the most notable the Park of February Third, the Botanical Gardens, the Japanese Gardens, the Plaza de Mayo and the Plaza San Martin. The public transport is very good and includes a subway system; sometimes you can avoid the fares. A local curiosity: Buenos Aries has more streets named for women, then any other city in the world.
I recommend side trips across the river to Colonia Sacramento, Uruguay and into the hills west of the City to Villa General Belgrano.
The Argentinians love beef and fish, the beef often sliced from skewers at the table. I have less experience here than in other cities, but I recommend restaurants El Artigiana, Angus, Champs Elysees, El Mirasol, La Estancia, Puerta del Inca and 1880.