World Facts Index > Argentina > Buenos AiresClearly defined in a Tango song, Buenos Aires is the Queen of Cities. Perhaps its secret lies in having everything: culture, architecture, art, music, and non stop nightlife. Together, it all combines to form a fascinating city, worth discovering block by block.
Buenos Aires was born mimicking Europe, copying characteristics from both Madrid and Paris. To many, this cocktail of styles turned out better than the originals. However, Buenos Aires also created its own heritage, adding to the mix some sultry tangos, ubiquitous "colectivos", quaint cafés and most of all, the flair of its residents, the proud "porteños". And what can be said about B.A. at nightfall, Porteños favorite time to celebrate their city and interact with each other in a myriad of restaurants, coffeehouses, discotheques and bars open until the wee hours.
LA BOCA: This heavily toured, picturesque district attracts visitors to the bright yellows, reds and blues prevailing on the exterior paint of its unique houses. These colors are also encompassed in the classic Genoese "conventillos" or tenements, and in the paintings by artist Benito Quinquela Martin which immortalize the district. In La Boca, you can eat lunch in any of its local eateries while watching a couple dance the tango. For additional enjoyment, there are the many exhibitions organized by the Proa Foundation, and the Cera (wax) Museum. Traveling down the street, up to Vuelta de Rocha area, one will encounter the famous street "Caminito" that inspired the namesake tango song. Every weekend Caminito is the chosen site for a craft fair where you can purchase anything from a painting to a typical Argentine mate drinking gourd.
PUERTO MADERO: Continuing down the coast of the river we find the newest district in the city: Puerto Madero. Its official inauguration was in September of 1998. Before this time, it remained as a section of the port that has fallen in disrepair. Today, luxurious restaurants, offices, and movie theaters have replaced the ancient silos, and all of the streets carry female names. This district has clearly been converted into the most exclusive of the city. The Boulevard Azucena Villaflor directly connects the city to the river. The other street of interest is Vera Peñaloza. Every Saturday and Sunday it is closed to motorists so that visitors can skate, ride bicycles, and take a stroll.
SAN TELMO: This district reveals much of the past century as it preserves its small colonial homes with forged iron gates, and its skinny paved streets lined with lanterns. In San Telmo, one breathes the history of Buenos Aires. The beautiful Santo Domingo church is open to visitors, along with the city's museum. The Bohemian character of the district stands out every weekend at the antique fair held in Plaza Dorrego. There, one can buy anything from a wedding dress to a 1900 table setting, or drink coffee in one of the cafés that outline the Plaza. Another point of interest is the charming Pasaje de la Defensa and Balcarce street.
MONSERRAT: This is another historical district where memories of the past surprise visitors at every corner. In colonial times, Monserrat was the political, economic, social, and cultural seat of the city. There the locals defended themselves against the oppressions of the church. Today, the buildings, streets, and underground tunnels continue to reflect the past. The districts attractions include the Manzana de las Luces, the San Ignacio Church, the old Cabildo, and the Plaza de Mayo. Also, explore the area old cafés where you can unwind and time travel to the enchanting B.A. of yesteryear.
RECOLETA: Without a doubt, this is the citys most elegant district. The architecture of the buildings and palaces symbolize the splendor of the Argentine aristocracy. Here, tourists meet locals. Each weekend musicians, mimes, and other street artists, invade Recoleta´s Plaza Francia. At the adjacent Buenos Aires Design, the traveler can find souvenirs and a plethora of restaurants. Other areas of interest located around Plaza Francia include the Centro Cultural Recoleta, the Palais de Glace, and the "City of the Dead".
BELGRANO: During the middle of the last century, this was the summer hangout for many of the local families. Today, it encompasses a great part of the citys many social and cultural activities. Attractions include the Sarmiento Museum, the Casa de Yrurtia, and the Enrique Larreta museum. And for those that desire the open-air activities, there is the Barrancas de Belgrano. Here, one can sunbathe or people watch in its four hectares of uneven grounds. Belgrano is one of the most trafficked areas, with people that come and go from trains, bars, and kiosks. If shopping is in mind, there is a wide variety of stores on Cabildo Ave, a true open street market. Another main attraction of the area is the expanding "Chinatown". In addition to the district restaurants, there is a Buddhist monastery, and a February celebration of the Chinese New Year.
PALERMO: In Palermo, there is something for everyone. In the area surrounding picturesque Plaza Serrano, Buenos Aires most charming restaurants intermix with bars. On Saturdays and Sundays, the Palermo Park and Rose Garden are ideal spots for walking, playing soccer, and for boat rides. Another option is to visit the zoo, the Galileo Galilei planetarium, or to sip tea in the Japanese gardens.
History of Buenos AiresIf ports are doorways to a country, then the history and origins of Buenos Aires are best understood in relation to its port. "The Port City", as the colonizers called it, allowed commerce into the region, so vast, that it once reached the lands of modern Perú.
THE FOUNDING OF BUENOS AIRES
On February 3, 1536, the conqueror Don Pedro de Mendoza arrived by land to the coast of Buenos Aires. His mission was to populate the lands of the De La Plata River, which were of great interest to the Spanish crown. Mendoza christened the city "Espíritu Santo" and named its port "Nuestra Señora del Buen Ayre". He was faced with food scarcities and hostilities from the indigenous people that stifled his progress. For these reasons, he decided to leave and return to Spain.
Nearly forty years later, Juan de Garay arrived on a second attempt: on the 29th of May 1580, he made the second founding. Garay and his crew began working to organize the city. They selected the highest ground as a defensive point against potential attacks. The acclaimed monument, "Palo de la Justicia", was built on what today is the Plaza de Mayo, and a fort was built. In addition, they organized the Cabildo, which was the highest administrative institution, and erected a church where the Metropolitan Cathedral now stands. The city was then named "Santísima Trinidad", and its port, "Santa María de los Buenos Aires".
THE ERA OF VICEROYALTY
It was not until the 18th century, with the creation of the viceroyalty, that Buenos Aires ceased to be a village. The first viceroy to start the transformation was Juan José de Vértiz. He was responsible for the installation of street lamps and cobblestones, and for creating the first printing press. The fort was used as the seat of the viceroy and was on the site of the current government offices. Another point of reference from this era is the church of San Ignacio, constructed by the Jesuits and one of the oldest buildings in the city.
The role of Buenos Aires as the main connecting port for goods between the new land and the rest of Europe was essential to its development. Tempted by the growing business of the port, the English tried to take control of the River Plate and invaded the city of Buenos Aires in 1806 and 1807. Both attempts encountered defeat.
In 1810, with King Fernando VII in prison and the Seville council in French hands, the town of Buenos Aires decided to rise up in the famous May Revolution. They revoked the viceroys title and on May 25, the First Government Council was formed with Cornelio Saavedra presiding. This was the first step for achieving the independence of the River Plate provinces, proclaimed on the 9th of July 1816. This date is still celebrated as the most important national holiday.
THE FIRST CHANGES
Buenos Aires had been born. In 1857 the first railroads appeared, in 1865, the streetcars, and in 1876, the first shipment of wheat left for Europe. The bonanza prompted the declaration of Buenos Aires as the country's capital (1880). The city's geographic limits were today's Plaza Once and the Riachuelo river.
The Romantic styles and latest Art-nouveau designs from the old continent began to appear in buildings such as the Children's Hospital and the "Escuela Normal de Maestras". The typical Buenos Aires tenement houses that sheltered the European immigrants began to contrast with the new palaces. Slowly, Buenos Aires had grown from a small port town into the city that developed to be a replica of Europe. The immigrants from Europe were responsible for feeding this growth. First arrived the Italians and the Spanish, the majority of whom were poor farmers. Afterwards came the Jews, Poles, Croats, Czechs, and Ukrainians among other nationalities.
In the beginning, the migratory policies were very liberal, but with time, the pretentious Argentine oligarchy decided to close its doors. They only desired the influx of northern Europeans, which led to the English arriving in numbers. They were bankers, office workers, engineers, and financial experts. They designed the railroad network and their architectural designs were stamped across train stations, and the docks in the port. During 1895 in Buenos Aires, out of every 100 inhabitants, 72 were foreigners.
THE 20th CENTURY
Two main events characterized 20th century Argentina: the successive military coups led by the Armed Forces, and the birth of a native political movement known as Peronism.
The leader of this movement was Juan Domingo Perón, three times elected president. He rose to power in 1946 with the support of the lower classes and the labour unions. With him, the lower classes were able to participate in the political action. In addition, he redistributed the Nation's wealth, and the State took control of public services. Another feature of Perón's government was the growing publicity of his wife, Eva Duarte. From the offices of the Ministry of Labour, Evita personally sought aid for the poor through social welfare.
But the role of Evita was always controversial. "Los Descamisados" ("the shirtless ones"), as she called the poor, adored her to the extent of giving up their lives for her. The upper class, on the other hand, thought she was an opportunist blinded by power. In 1952, during her husband's second presidency, Evita fell victim to cancer. In 1955, the military overthrew Perón and he was banished to Madrid, Spain. After eighteen years in exile, Peronism returned to power in 1973. One year later upon the death of Perón, the presidency remained in hands of his new wife Isabel. The country was submerged in social violence, and the governments disarray ended in another coup d'état.
THE DICTATORSHIP AND THE RETURN OF DEMOCRACY
Among all of the centurys dictatorships in Argentina, that of 1976 was the worst. The military named Jorge Videla president and the supreme commander of the three Armed Forces devised a plan to combat the subversive elements of the population (the extreme Right and Left of the political spectrum). The military created a sort of terrorist state and used it to control and persecute political dissidents. They kidnapped, assassinated, robbed children, and left thirty thousand people missing. Even today, relatives still search for their loved-ones.
In 1982, they declared war against England for sovereignty of the Falkland Islands, in order to justify the continuation of their political plan. The war ended with the defeat of Argentine forces. This episode served to end the dictatorship and marked the return of democracy to Argentina. Human rights organizations started to demand information about the missing people, and political parties began their campaigns and designated presidential candidates. Five million people affiliated with the different parties, made clear their desire to participate in democratic elections showing up at the polls.
On December 10, 1983, Raúl Alfonsín assumed the presidency and was handed a nation in total turmoil. During his time in office, he prosecuted the military juntas. The verdict condemned the leaders, but the ratification of the laws of "Punto Final" and "Obediencia Debida" granted freedom for the lower-ranking officials. Afterwards came the pardons of President Carlos Menem. Today, the majority of the leaders that participated in the coup d'état of 1976 are free, but are still wanted on international charges. The Argentine courts continue to investigate them on charges of illegal appropriation of minors.
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