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Carlos Gardel

March 4, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Carlos Gardel: Argentina’s beloved tango crooner

Carlos Gardel is by far Argentina’s most famous Tango singer and is a nationally adored figure. They say that if you’re itching to get into a fight with an Argentine, just insult any one of their holy trinity of heroes: Diego Maradona, Evita, or Carlos Gardel.

Carlos Gardel Argentina Icon tango

[Photo credit: Alfredo Davies’ Flickr/ /CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

Carlos Gardel was born Charles Gardes to single mother Berthe Gardes in Toulouse, France in 1890.  To escape the social stigma of having a child out of wedlock, Berthe migrated to Argentina, claiming to be a widow.  While we take these facts for granted today, Gardel’s origins were something of a mystery for many years: speculators argued over whether he was born in Uruguay, France, or Argentina.  This uncertainty only added to the mystique of the tango legend; similarly foggy are details of his love life and of his death.

Ms. Gardes and son, nicknamed Carlos, settled into the barrio (neighborhood) of Abasto.  As as a child, Carlitos worked in opera houses (Buenos Aires had five at the time, of which the Teatro Colon is the surviving example) organizing props, lifting curtains, and even rousing audiences as a professional applauder.  Inspired by the most important singers of the time, Gardel built his name singing in bars, horse races, and for private parties across Buenos Aires.  He was ultimately launched to fame by the fates of tango when he performed one of the first tango songs known to have lyrics, Mi Noche Triste (My sad night) in 1917.  The recording exploded across the Americas and established Gardel as tango’s original singer.

Gardel toured the world, and began filming movies with Paramount Pictures in Paris.  Fellow Argentine Alfredo Le Pera wrote tango lyrics understandable to a diverse Spanish-speaking audience for the films, breaking with the tradition of writing tangos in lunfardo (the slang dialect of Buenos Aires).  This duo is memorialized in multiple recordings of some of Gardel’s most famous songs, such as Mi Buenos Aires Querido (My dear Buenos Aires). Listen below:

Gardel’s tragic death and memorial

Gardel grave Chacarita

In 1935, Gardel and Le Pera were promoting their newest film, El día que me quieras, when their plane crashed during take-off in Medellín, Colombia.  Neither artist survived.  Gardel’s body was carried across Colombia, by steamboat to New York, Rio de Janeiro, Montevideo, and back to Buenos Aires. Huge street processions met the coffin in each city to mourn the loss of “Carlitos”.

Gardel is buried with his mother, in the Cemetery of Chacarita.  His grave, declared a National Monument by the late President Néstor Kirchner, boasts plaques of memorial from admirers around the world.  Taxi drivers are known pull up next to his grave, play a tango at full blast, and light a cigarette.  When the song is over, the driver places what’s left of the cigarette in the statue’s hand.   Fans also tuck a rose into the statue’s lapel, so Gardel remains ever debonair.  Since his death, Gardel’s memory persists such that there’s even a common saying, “cada día canta mejor”: he sings better every day.  It must be true, since in 2003, UNESCO declared Gardel’s voice to be Patrimony of Mankind.

Abasto: Gardel’s neighborhood

Gardel lyrics Pasaje Zelaya

Carlos Gardel was a true man of the arrabal, meaning a working-class neighborhood on the outskirts of the city.  In his time, Abasto marked the edge of the city, populated mainly by Italian immigrants, and life revolved around a market fair which brought produce from the country to the city.  Eventually, the Mercado del Abasto, a beautiful Art Deco building, was built to house the fair.  Though the building now contains a shopping mall, it’s a stunning jewel in Buenos Aires’s architectural pantheon.  Today, almost everything here is named after Gardel, from streets to cafes, and even newspaper stands boast the name of “El morocho del Abasto” (“The dark one from Abasto”).

Tango fans will find this part of town worth visiting.  Take a stroll down the Pasaje de Zelaya, a short pedestrian walk full of images of Gardel, and song lyrics on the walls and sidewalks.  Two of Buenos Aire’s best alternative theatre spaces are also on this walk: El Cubo and Teatro Ciego, the blind theatre company!  While shows at either of these venues are entirely in Spanish, they sometimes show dance productions or musical (and other sensory) works.

Gardel Abasto Fileteado

Turn the corner onto Jean Juares and enjoy houses decked out in fileteado artwork, the popular decorative art found on shop windows, buses, and sign posts around BA.  After one block you’ll find the Carlos Gardel Museum, which was the singer’s (and his mother’s) home.  The museum shows relics of Carlos’s life, and often hold events and shows.  If you’re lucky, you may stumble upon a tango lesson or music performance!  Then check out the Carlos Gardel pedestrian street, where you’ll find a statue of Gardel, posing under the Abasto’s arches, plus a tourist shop called “Regionales del Abasto”, worth visiting if only for the extraordinary fileteado artwork on the walls, as pictured here.

Note that even the subway stop for this part of the city is named Carlos Gardel.  Luca Prodan, another late Argentine music legend,  also lived in Abasto, and in the song Mañana en el Abasto, he sings about waking up in this ‘hood, sleeping in the abandoned Abasto building in the late 1980’s, then taking the subway from the Carlos Gardel station.

For more information on Gardel, listen to this piece on NPR or read on Rhythm Planet about a chance meeting between Carlos and Frank Sinatra!

Location and hours of Gardel attractions

Chacarita Cemetery:
Avenida Guzman 680 (between Elcano and Federico Lacroze), Chacarita
Sunday – Sunday: 8am to 6pm

Pasaje Zalaya:
Zelaya between Aguero and Jean Juares, Abasto

Carlos Gardel House Museum:
Jean Jaurés 735, between Zelaya and Tucuman, Abasto
Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday: 11am to 6om
Saturday, Sunday, Holidays: 10am to 7pm
Tuesdays: closed
Entrance fee: $1, Wednesday free

Carlos Gardel Pedestrian Street
Carlos Gardel between Jean Juares and Anchorena, Abasto

Abasto Shopping:
Corrientes 3247, between Aguero & Anchorena, Abasto
Open 10am to 10pm daily

El Ateneo Grand Splendid Bookstore

April 30, 2013 by · 13 Comments 

The world’s most beautiful bookstore, in Buenos Aires!

Buenos Aires is a bookworm’s city: cozy cafes for snuggling up with a novel on every corner, bargain bookshops on Corrientes Avenue, famous literary personalities, and high taxes on technology make Kindles and Tablets rare (that’s right, porteños still read real-life, scribble in the margins, flash them on the subway, wallow in the scent of musty spine, thumb the velvety pages BOOKS!). And of course, Buenos Aires is home to the most beautiful bookstore in the world.

El Ateneo bookstore

[Photo credit: m4caque’s photostream/ /CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

El Ateneo Grand Splendid is one of the biggest bookstores in South America and certainly the most luxurious. Located in the ritzy Recoleta neighborhood, El Ateneo is as splendid as its name, and exudes Buenos Aires’s nostalgic elegance.  The building originally housed the theater Teatro Grand Splendid, designed by architects Pero and Torres Armengol in 1919. After years of popular shows, including performances by the famous tango singers Carlos Gardel and Ignacio Corsini, the Grand Splendid was converted into a movie theater in the late ’20’s, featuring some of the first sound movies shown in Argentina.

All the bookstore’s a stage

Beautiful bookstore Buenos Aires

The El Ateneo publishing house converted this old theater into a bookstore in 2000, thankfully conserving its original aspect, but replacing seating with bookshelves. The theater’s spectacular cupola (dome), painted by Italian artist Nazareno Orlandi, depicts an allegory for peace after WWI. Framed by plush crimson curtains, the stage is now a cafe where literary types and people-watchers alike form part of the spectacle; acting like a porteño by sipping a cafe and struggling over a Cortázar story has never been so literal!

Opened in 1912 by Spaniard Pedro Garcia, El Ateneo started out as a publishing house whose initial catalog included The Divine Comedy, Montaigne’s essays, Shakespeare, Ruben Dario, Machiavelli and Homer translated and printed for an Argentine readership. In 1968, the publishers launched “The Spring of Letters”, a series of lectures and signings with famous authors which eventually evolved into the International Book Fair held annually in April. Today, the editorial forms part of Argentina’s most important literary conglomerate with many bookstores throughout BA and the rest of the country.

BYOB: Bring your own book

El Ateneo Grand Splendid

[Photo credit: violinha’s photostream/ /CC BY-NC-SA 2.0]

If you want to be one of the 3,000 who visit this glorious temple of books daily, I recommend waiting for a spot in any of the reading nooks housed where the box seats once lay. Snuggle up with your selections, admire the ornate views, and watch people from all over the world snap photos and delve into texts.

Don’t be disappointed by the English book section, though; it contains almost exclusively romance and mystery novels with an occasional classic. There are, however, many books on Latin American art, regional cuisine, guide books, and Argentine culture which make for fun browsing for even those who don’t understand a lick of español. Check the basement for music, DVDs, and an extensive children’s section, and the upper floors for great views. The first floor houses mostly medical, psychological, and education texts, and you can find Classical and Opera music on the third floor.

dome at El Ateneo Grand Splendid

[Photo credit: kara brugman’s photostream/ /CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

Don’t believe it’s the most beautiful bookstore in the world? Neither did The Guardian; in this article they placed El Ateneo at second. Call me dramatic, but I hold to my claim that El Ateneo is number 1! For a great description of the store, try Atlas Obscuro, and if you want to see some more magical bookstores check out this top twenty list at Flavorwire. Or just sit here and watch the following short video on El Ateneo instead:

Location of El Ateneo Grand Splendid Bookstore

Avenida Santa Fe 1860, between Riobamba and Callao, Recoleta
Telephone: 4813-6052

Monday to Thursday: 9am to 10pm
Friday and Saturday: 9am to 12am
Sunday: 12pm to 10pm

La Bomba de Tiempo

April 3, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

A must-see show in Buenos Aires

La Bomba de Tiempo

You can feel the beat hit your chest. Everyone’s eyes are glued to the stage, mouths attached to their big-cup beers and ears enjoying the thump of congas and djembe drums. The ones not slurping beer are dancing and smiling, kissing their date or just letting the music sink in. If anyone had a case of the Mondays, it left a long time ago.

La Bomba de Tiempo attracts an eclectic crowd to the Konex, their Abasto venue, every Monday night. The event has become a must for many travelers and Porteños in Buenos Aires. Its popularity could have made it an over-touristy event if it weren’t for its consistent originality, affordability and great music.

image-45

The best of Abasto

Located only a few blocks from the historic Abasto Shopping Center, The Konex is an open-air venue with some fun design. (La Bomba de Tiempo is a rain-or-shine event because the stage is covered. It’s actually a fun event in the rain). A large orange staircase, which hosts the mixing desk, is in the middle of the audience. There’s a huge metal bug stationed on the roof to the left of the stage. Colorful graffiti covers the walls. But all of these details fade away once the drum band takes stage.

A 17-person band provides the nights’ entertainment. They play on an array of drums – congo and djembe mostly – and everyone seems to get a solo of some kind. Mid-way through the show last week, a saxophonist accompanied the band for a few songs, playing for about 30 minutes. The music was lively, perfectly executed and energized the crowd.

The band involves the audience too. In a performance that resembled the Isley Brother’s song Shout, the drum band gradually lowered its volume, motioning the audience to kneel down. The entire crowd lowered to the ground until the beat slowly, and then rapidly, picked up. Not before long, everyone was back on their feet, clapping hands.

La Bomba de Tiempo

Although the venue is standing-room only and packed, there isn’t a rowdy vibe in the audience. Whether because of the music or not, the jovial, peaceful crowd makes the performance even more enjoyable.

Given its popularity, La Bomba de Tiempo is an event to show up early for. You don’t need to worry about tickets selling out, but the line can literally be around the block, and an hour-long wait. The main, La Bomba de Tiempo show starts at 8pm, but there is an opening act at 7pm. Try to arrive at the Konex by 7pm to avoid missing any of the La Bomba show.

For more opinions on La Bomba de Tiempo, check out Wander Argentina‘s post, Diego’s write-up on Expose Buenos Aires and this review by Matador Network.

Where is La Bomba de Tiempo?

The Ciudad Cultural Konex venue, at Sarmiento 3131 (between Jean Juares and Anchorena) Abasto, City of Buenos Aires.

Check out La Bomba de Tiempo’s website and Facebook page for any updates. You can also buy tickets on the Ticketek website.

Phone: (+54 11) 4864 3200     Email: [email protected]

Famous Argentines

March 4, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

The holy trinity of Argentina - Gardel, Evita and Maradona
Browse:  Famous Figures

Famous Argentines

Argentina boasts a rich history and deep cultural life: as a result many Argentines reach international fame. The country claims five Nobel laureates, musical greats like Carlos Gardel and Mercedes Sosa, plus a slew of wonderful artists like Antonio Berni and Xul Solar. A lush literary heritage means seminal works like Martin Fierro made way for great authors like Julio Cortazar and Jorge Luis Borges.

Out of a perpetually tumultuous political landscape emerged notable figures including Juan and Evita Peron, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, and the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo. No list of greats can leave out footballer Diego Maradona, but other famous Argentine athletes include Lionel Messi, Manu Ginobili, and tennis star Juan Manuel del Potro. Even the ball-point pen is (claimed to be!) from Argentina – ask any Argentine and they’ll proudly explain! And if that’s not enough, the Pope himself is Argentine.

[Top Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/adam_jones/3773142563/ / CC BY-SA 2.0]

Buenos Aires Museums & Cultural Centers

February 8, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Fine Arts Museum in Buenos Aires
Browse:  Museums

Buenos Aires Museums & Cultural Centers

The people of Buenos Aires like to think they are very cultured lot, and in truth, they have an awful lot of interesting museums to back that claim up. From historical museums paying tribute to important figures likes Evita and Carlos Gardel, to art museums covering a wide range of styles, there is something for everyone.

And don’t forget the local cultural centers. Often similar to museums, usually with free entry and rotating exhibits, there are many spread across Buenos Aires, usually named after the neighborhood they are in, but also covering different themes, such as the Borges cultural center. Keep checking back below for recommendations.

Self-Guided Buenos Aires Walking Tour

April 4, 2007 by · 5 Comments 

Buenos Aires City History Tour: Plaza de Mayo, Avenida de Mayo, Plaza Congreso

The Pink House in Plaza de Mayo

Below is a simplified tour route of the original BuenosTours ‘Buenos Aires City History Tour‘ – covering the historical heart of the city and many of it’s most important buildings, in addition to a lot of fantastic architecture, and some great cafes. It starts in Plaza de Mayo, home to the executive arm of the Argentine government (the Casa Rosada), ends in Plaza Congreso outside the legislative arm (the Congress building) and walks down Avenida de Mayo in between, the ‘grand boulevard’ of Buenos Aires that connects these two most important of Buenos Aires structures.

So, if this sounds like the kind of tour you’ll be looking for during your visit to Buenos Aires, then either print out this blog post to do a self-guided walking tour, or contact us to book a private guided walking tour – far more enjoyable and hassle-free than struggling round the busy city center with an upside down map clasped in your hands!

Suggested Walking Tour of Buenos Aires

To get some organizational matters in order first, this is how you read this self-guided tour to Buenos Aires:

  • The directions (where to walk, look, stop etc) are written in italics
  • Each stop is numbered and contains a brief overview of the attraction
  • For further help, the attractions can be found numbered on the tour map at the end of this post

The descriptions of each attraction are quite short and sweet for now, to avoid a ‘War and Peace’ walking tour, and as you will see it is already pretty long even with just the succinct overviews of each stop. However, in the near future many of the attractions found on this tour will be written up in greater detail, in blog posts of their own, then linked to from within this post so that you can find more information on anything that interests you.

Anyway, please read on for the self-guided walking tour of Buenos Aires city center…

Start in Plaza de Mayo, at the end of the square that has a big statue of a guy on a horse (Manuel Belgrano, for the record), and first look back down the square to get an overall view of it…

Plaza de Mayo

Since Buenos Aires was successfully founded in 1580Plaza de Mayo (‘May Square’) has been the center of city life. From the early days it was surrounded by government (the Cabildo – colonial government HQ), religion, (the Cathedral), and military (the Buenos Aires fort, which used to stand where the Pink House is located).

View of Plaza de Mayo, the historical heart of Buenos Aires

Plaza de Mayo was originally called Plaza Mayor (‘Main Square’), and then later went through a few more name changes due to it being split into two squares in c.1800 when a colonial market building known as a Recova was built, running across the width of the square, at approximately where you can see the metal barriers today. The Recova was demolished in 1884 by Mayor Alvear as part of his modernization of Buenos Aires, and only at that point did the whole square become known as Plaza de Mayo, as it is today.

OK, now turn around and stand with Argentina’s government house facing you across the road. Yes, that’s the big pink one… 😉

Casa Rosada / Pink House Buenos Aires1. Casa Rosada: The ‘Pink House’ succeeded the Cabildo as government house in 1873. There are many theories as to why it is pink, my favorite being that there was a white paint shortage during President Sarmiento‘s reign, so his men mixed the paint with cows’ blood to make it last longer (and for damp-proofing), giving the striking shade of pink. The balcony to your left (not the center) was where President Peron & his wife Evita gave speeches to crowds of up to 200,000 in Plaza de Mayo. In the years since then the balcony has become the focal point of many national events and announcements.

Now turn back around to face the rest of the plaza, and walk past the fountains, then round the right hand side of the metal riot barriers (how lovely!) and keep going to the center of the Plaza until you are facing the tall white monument in it’s center…

Pyramide de Mayo in Plaza de mayo2. Pyramide de Mayo: The ‘May Pyramid’ was built in 1811 to celebrate the 1st anniversary of the “May Revolution” on 25th May 1810. The original pyramid was wooden, only being set in stone in 1856. The white scarf symbols on the ground circling the pyramid represent the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, an association of mothers whose children were “disappeared” (i.e. murdered) by the Argentine military dictatorship of 1976-83. Each Thursday since 1977 the madres have formed a protest around the pyramid, wearing white scarves representing the diapers of their lost children.

Keep walking in the same direction, past the pyramid, to the other end of the square, and stand looking at the Cabildo; a simple, white arched building across the road…

El Cabildo in Plaza de Mayo3. The Cabildo: A rare example of colonial architecture left in the city, the Cabildo was the original colonial government building from 1609-1810. Due to the structurally weak building material called adobe that was used in colonial times, it had to be rebuilt many times in its early years. Around the turn of the 20th century, 6 of its original 11 colonial arches were demolished to make way for the building of Avenida de Mayo (1894) & Diagonal Sur (1930s). Yet it still contains some of its original foundations/walls, and therefore lays claim to being the oldest building left standing in Buenos Aires.

Now turn right from where you were facing and walk over to the corner crossing, facing the Cathedral, which with all those classical columns might have you thinking it is actually a Greek Temple…

Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral4. Cathedral (Exterior): The most important Catholic building in Argentina, and so one of the most important buildings here period, as Argentina is a Catholic state. The Cathedral was built at the same time as the Cabildo, using the same weak adobe. However, the Cathedral fared even worse than the Cabildo, suffering 7 total collapses in 200 years. In 1827 this sturdier neo-classical stone construction was completed. The 12 Corinthian columns represent the apostles; the facade engraved with a scene from Genesis, where Joseph is reunited with his father and brothers in Egypt.

Carefully make you way over the two stage road-crossing to your right, head up the steps at the front of the Cathedral and walk a few steps to the right until you get to the central entrance. Before you go in, note the eternal flame down the far end of the external wall, burning in memory of General San Martin, the independence hero whose tomb you will see inside. Go in the door and turn right to enter the main cathedral…

General San Martin's Tomb in Buenos Aires Cathedral5. Cathedral (Interior): The Cathedral interior is beautiful and peaceful, but the main attraction is found in the fourth small altar along the right-hand corridor. Here lies the remains of General San Martin, who led Argentina’s revolutionary troops to victory over the Spanish loyalists in the 1810-16 wars of independence, before proceeding to help liberate Chile, Peru & Ecuador between 1817-22, as can be seen on the plaque fronting his magnificent tomb. The two scary guys with swords are Granaderos, the regiment San Martin created, and guard his body Mon-Sat.

After a good look around the rest of the interior, exit the Cathedral again through the main entrance, and first cross over to the central traffic island, before crossing over to you right. Once safely over, go left and walk towards the next street corner, which is the start of Avenida de Mayo (you will see a street sign on this corner). At this corner, turn right to begin walking down this wonderful avenue…

Avenida de Mayo – Part 1

Avenida de Mayo was opened in 1894, built to be Buenos Aires’ grand boulevard, like the Champs-Elysees in Paris or the Gran Via of Madrid. Buenos Aires looks to Europe for much of its culture, often being labeled the “Paris of The Americas”. This isn’t surprising when you consider that Argentines are largely descended from recent European immigrants, mainly from Italy, but also Spain, France & Germany among others. They arrived between 1880 & 1930, when Argentina had one of the fastest growing economies in the world. With immigration came foreign investment, enabling extravagant Avenida de Mayo to be built with no expense spared…

View of the start of Avenida de Mayo

Due to its construction at the turn of the 20th century, the avenue contains a fair amount of beautiful Parisian-inspired Art Nouveau and Beaux Arts buildings, when these over-the-top architectural styles were at the height of their popularity. These days, while the street and many of its buildings are in desperate need of repair, it’s not hard to imagine how glorious it was during its heyday, especially if you look up at the beautiful architecture that lines the avenue (but please walk carefully as you do so).

Now walk down Av. de Mayo a little and cross over at the first crossing. When you get to the other side, turn around and look back across at the former La Prensa building – it has it’s name in front of a large statue up on the roof…

Former La Prensa Newspaper Building, Avenida de Mayo 6. Former La Prensa Building: Constructed in 1898 as the offices for the La Prensa newspaper, this is a great example no the no-expense spared philosophy the avenue was built to. The grand exterior has imposing cast-iron doors, curvy lamps, bronze ornamentation, carved granite, and a Mansard roof, like the Louvre in Paris. The inside is equally elegant. Up top is a 4 ton statue of Greek Goddess Pallas Athenea: her lit torch and printed page symbolize press freedom. Peron didn’t agree with the sentiment, shutting the paper down after coming to power in 1946. The building now houses the Casa de la Cultura.

Looking back at street level, you should now be standing next to the steps down to Peru subway station on the A Line. Go down the steps for a trip back in time…

Inside Peru Subte Station7. Peru Subte Station: When it was built in 1913, Buenos Aires subway Line A became the first subway in the southern hemisphere, and also within the Spanish speaking world. Peru is the best preserved station on the whole line, like descending into a time capsule of BA city life almost 100 years ago, with its atmospheric dim lamp lighting, period kiosk stalls, hand painted wall adverts, colorful tiling, and most interestingly of all, the original wooden subway cars with manual sliding doors. With a bit of luck, you’ll get to ride one of these in a moment.

Turn to the booth selling subway tickets, queuing if needs be, and when at the ticket window say “uno” or “dos” or “tres” etc (depending on how many tickets you want, silly) – the tickets cost 70 centavos each and they will give change, but it is probably not advisable trying to pay with anything over a 10 peso note. Once you have the tickets, use them in them automatic turnstile to get through onto the station platform…

Inside carriage on Buenos Aires Subway Line A8. Riding the A Line: You’ll probably want to ride in an old restored wooden subway car, so wait until one arrives, as some of the trains are new. Get on and ride one stop up to Piedras station. The line runs the length of Avenida de Mayo and beyond, and when it was built in 1913 (for any Brits or Anglophiles out there, it is British built) the trains were hurtling along underground while horse-drawn carriages still ran on the street above. The creaky old ride is often a bumpy one, so make sure you hold on tight, but still take the chance to survey the all-wooden interior.

Once you’ve survived the short ride to Piedras station, go straight through the turnstiles and up th steps on your left hand side to exit back on to the avenue. Once there, walk a few steps to where you can cross over to the other side of the avenue. Then turn to your left after crossing and walk a little bit down to Cafe Tortoni, at Av. de Mayo 825…

Cafe Tortoni, Buenos Aires9. Cafe Tortoni: The cafe in a city of cafes. Tortoni is the most famous and oldest cafe in Buenos Aires, founded in 1858. By 1920 Cafe Tortoni had become home to many intellectuals & artists’ meetings in Buenos Aires. Famous past patrons include painter Benito Quinquela Martin, writer Jorge Luis Borges, and tango singer Carlos Gardel. The main attraction is the ornate interior: tall Ionic columns, stained-glass skylights, restored oak tables, plus paintings, pictures & models of illustrious clientèle, all create a great setting to enjoy your cafe con leche y tres medialunas.

From Cafe Tortoni, keep walking in the same direction to the end of the block (the cross-street is Tacuari), and before you cross look down to your left where you will see a somewhat makeshift plaque resting on the floor…

Plaque to Gaston Riva, killed during Dec 2001 Riots10. Plaque to Gaston Riva: Gaston Riva was shot dead by the police on this spot during the riots that occurred during Argentina’s economic meltdown in December 2001. After the government froze all bank accounts, there was widespread rioting and looting on the 19th – 20th December in this area around Plaza de Mayo, and across the rest of the country, and when the police were dispatched to deal with it they sadly ended up shooting dead 26 people, including poor Gaston Riva here. Adding insult to injury, the memorial plaque has clearly been broken from its former vertical position.

Cross over Tacuari and keep walk the length of the next block, noticing the interesting modern mural of Buenos Aires across the street, until you reach a huge intersection of traffic that you probably heard coming. Wait here before you start the long staged crossing…

Crossing 9 de Julio

You are standing in front of Avenida 9 de Julio, a massive 140m wide avenue that porteños claim to be the widest street in the world. It may take a few traffic light cycles to cross safely, so please be patient and cross safely.

Busy 9 de Julio, Buenos Aires

Av. 9 de Julio was opened in 1936, although expansion continued right the way through to the 1960s. Unfortunately building the road meant that many city blocks had to be turned to rubble, many containing beautiful or historic buildings. The only two that survived along the route were the large and ugly government communications building to the south, and the small but perfectly formed French Embassy to the north.

Make your way over the many crossings in front of you, until you reach the traffic island in the very center. While you are waiting for the traffic lights to turn in your favor, here’s a bite size piece Argentine history to digest…

Argentina's Flag 11. Argentine Independence: Avenida 9 de Julio is so named to mark the date when Argentina (then known as the “United Provinces of the River Plate”) declared official independence from its former colonial rulers, Spain. This occurred on the 9th July, 1816, at the “Congress of Tucuman”. However, this date is not the most important on the Argentine calendar… independence was really gained in the “May Revolution” of 25th May, 1810: it just took six years for things to become ‘official’ (even then, this was not recognized by world powers for a few more years).

Once in the central traffic island of Avenida 9 de Julio, turn to your right and look down the avenue where you will notice a very conspicuous looking large white monument standing proudly erect a few blocks away…

El Obelisco / The Obelisk, Buenos Aires12. El Obelisco: The Obelisk has been dominating the skyline of this area since it opened in May 1936 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the (supposed) 1st attempt to found Buenos Aires, by Spanish sailor Pedro de Mendoza. It also stands in the spot where the Argentine flag was raised for the first time. At 68m tall, the Obelisk is a pretty obvious meeting place. In fact, after important sporting victories, it is the place to meet for a rowdy, traffic-halting celebration. Recently, on World AIDS Awareness Day, a giant pink condom was placed over the Obelisk for a day. No kidding!

Continue the long journey over 9 de Julio until you are on the last traffic island, where you can glance over to your left to see an interesting modern sculpture…

Sculpture of Don Quijote de la Mancha13. Don Quijote de la Mancha Sculpture: This sculpture was a gift from Queen Sofia of Spain to mark the 400th anniversary of the successful founding of Buenos Aires by the Spanish in 1580, led by Juan de Garay. Many say that one reason this founding was successful where previous attempts had failed was that it brought along one vital magic ingredient… a woman! Her name was Ana Diaz, and she is credited with playing an important role in the settling of Buenos Aires. Perhaps without her woman’s touch, Buenos Aires would not have been settled and you wouldn’t be visiting this great city…

Make the last crossing over 9 de Julio to rejoin Avenida de Mayo…

Avenida de Mayo – Part 2

This concluding stretch of Avenida de Mayo is a bit of a mixed bag. Along the way you will see some fantastic individual pieces of architecture, which unfortunately are randomly distributed in among some modern monstrosities that have taken their toll on the overall design of the avenue. However, don’t let poor city planning get in the way of your enjoyment, as the individual buildings along this stretch really are a joy to behold.

View of the end of Avenida de Mayo

In addition to the modern buildings that have taken away a little of the avenues heritage, at street level things have also deteriorated a fair bit, and as you will be looking up at quite a lot of the buildings from here on, please be careful not to trip on the cracked/missing pavement as you go.

Cross over to the left hand side of Avenida de Mayo at the first crossing immediately after 9 de Julio, then continue down the block until you reach the Hotel Castelar on your left, at Av. de Mayo 1152…

The Castelar Hotel, Avenida de Mayo14. Hotel Castelar: The Castelar was opened in 1928 with the claim of being the 1st hotel in South America with a ‘refrigerated parlor’. Strange, but true: the thick Italian Carrara marble that lines the walls keeps internal temperatures at 6oc lower than outside, during the hot Buenos Aires summer. A plaque on the marble wall states that famous Spanish writer Federico Garcia Lorca stayed here in room number 704, from October 1933 – March 1934. Just two and a half years later, at the tender age of 38, Lorca was murdered by nationalists at the start of the Spanish Civil War.

Continue down the block and at the end, not only cross over Salta, but also cross over to the right hand side of the avenue, and walk down a little way before stopping to look back across the road at the small Teatro Avenida theater…

Teatro Avenida, Buenos Aires15. Teatro Avenida: This theater was where Lorca put on his play Bodas de Sangre (Blood Wedding), during his 6 month stay in Buenos Aires. It is part of his ‘rural trilogy’, regarded to be one of the best works of Spanish language theater of the past 100 years. After his untimely murder in Spain, with his works banned there by General Franco, the 2nd & 3rd parts were put on in the Teatro Avenida, allowing his work to still be enjoyed by many. The theater, which opened in 1908, was almost completely destroyed by fire in 1979. It was restored in 1994, but unfortunately to nowhere near its former glory.

Go a little further down this block and soon, on your right hand side, you will come across Bar 36 Billares, at Av. de Mayo 1265…

Cafe Bar 36 Billares, Buenos Aires16. Bar 36 Billares: Third and final stop on this mini Lorca tour within a tour; Bar 36 Billares was his favorite watering hole while in Buenos Aires. With the places he slept, worked and relaxed all within a block, he obviously didn’t like to walk far! The bar itself became the first place with billiard tables in Argentina when it opened in 1894, the same year Avenida de Mayo was inaugurated. It is a nice example of a traditional bar to share a bottle or three of Quilmes beer (far from my favorite, but an Argentine institution) with friends, and maybe play a few games of billiards or pool.

Walk down to the end of the block, cross over Santiago del Estero, and then on the corner turn back from where you came and look across and up at the lovely architecture of the Hotel Chile…

Art Nouveau Facade of the Hotel Chile17. Hotel Chile: Built in 1907, the Hotel Chile is possibly the finest example of Art Nouveau along Avenida de Mayo, with its wonderful curves and twisting serpentine lines of the intricate cast iron balconies. It also has some Middle Eastern influences, with a lovely decorative glazed ornamental tiling above the windows, in a style known as Faience, found in many Arabic countries. The Hotel Chile was once crowned by a magnificent wooden dome, but this was destroyed by fire in 1988 along with much of the original interior – unfortunately the Hotel is not a great place to stay these days.

Begin walking down this next block, and soon on your right you will be standing next to a very interesting building at Avenida de Mayo 1333…

Former Critica Newspaper Building in Art Deco Style18. Former Critica Building: This building, once home to the left-wing Critica newspaper (Borges was a contributer), is a complete departure from the Art Nouveau seen along the rest of the avenue. It was built in 1926, a good 10 years later than most other old buildings along the avenue, when Art Nouveau had become distinctly passé and Art Deco was the hot new style. It’s zig-zag lines and geometrical shapes are a nice change from all those curves, along with the neo-Egyptian sculptures and ships bows, all common Art Deco themes. Now home to the Federal Police HQ!

Walk a bit further along the block until you have a good view across the avenue to what is obviously the tallest building in this area, the one with a central tower. It is probably best to walk slightly past it to get a good perspective when looking up at the building…

Palacio Barolo, Avenida de Mayo19. Palacio Barolo: Easily my favorite building on the avenue. Built by Italians Luigi Barolo & Mario Palanti in honor the father of their language, Dante Alighieri, it plays tribute to his epic poem ‘The Divine Comedy’. It’s three sections represent the three books of the poem; Hell, Purgatory & Paradise. It’s 100m height represents the 100 verses, and 22 floors for the number of stanzas in each verse, along with many other numerical & architectural tributes. When it was built in 1923 it was for a short while the tallest building in South America, and remained the tallest in Buenos Aires until 1935.

Keep going to the end of the block and cross over San Jose, then find a good spot anywhere on the next block to look over and across the road at the large building which takes up the whole block on the other side of the avenue…

Red Corner Dome on the La Inmobiliaria Building20. La Inmobiliaria Building: Built in 1910 as offices for the now defunct La Inmobiliaria insurance company, this block-filler offers a nice segue from the Art Nouveau of Av. de Mayo to the Neo-Classical themes that will soon be seen on the Argentine Congress building, in that it combines both architectural styles. The colorful decorative tiled sign of the building’s name across the top, cute cast-iron balconies and red domes that grace each corner are distinctly Art-Nouveau, while Neo-Classical embellishments include Ionic columns & prominent statues of the Greek Gods.

Finish walking to the end of the block, where you will come to the end of Avenida de Mayo, and be staring across into the long, rectangular Plaza Congreso in front of you…

Plaza Congreso

The Plaza de Los Dos Congresos as it is officially known, or Plaza Congreso for short, was designed to be the place where Buenos Aires would celebrate the May Revolution centenary of 1910.

View of Plaza Congreso and the Argentine Congress Building

Just 16 years previously, Avenida de Mayo had been built to finish directly in front of the Congress building, and therefore many completely new, extravagant buildings like you saw along the rest of the avenue had to be demolished to make way for the building of Plaza Congreso. Talk about a lack of forward planning!

Still standing on the right-hand end corner of Avenida de Mayo, look over diagonally to your right where you should be able to see a small theater with some gold trim on the corner of Rivadavia and Luis Saenz Peña…

Evita and Juan Peron21. Teatro Liceo: This is the oldest theater in Buenos Aires, founded in 1872. It also happens to be the stage where a struggling young 1940s actress called Eva Duarte performed on her way to a moderately successful stage, film and radio acting career. The small fame she achieved gave her the opportunity to meet politician Juan Peron, the pair quickly married in 1945, and the newly-named Evita Peron soon became one of the most famous first ladies ever. Incidentally, her movies were soon banned in Argentina, as it was not the done thing for politicians to mix with entertainers back then!

Cross over to the left-hand side of Avenida de Mayo, then cross over again, forward into the start of Plaza Congreso, where you will soon see a statue on your left, next to the huge tree…

Staue of Mariano Moreno, 1st Secretary of the Independent Argentina22. Moreno Statue: This initial area after Av. de Mayo is officially called Plaza Moreno, though most people consider it as part of Plaza Congreso. It is named after Mariano Moreno, whose statue stands under the branches of the huge tree. Moreno was the secretary of the 1st Argentine self-ruling government in 1810, in addition to founding the 1st Argentine paper (the Buenos Aires Gazette) & the national library, while still finding time to be an independence hero… quite a busy guy! Sadly however, shortly after the May Revolution, Moreno was assassinated by Spanish loyalists.

Walk straight ahead down the center of the Plaza, until you come to a small but familiar bronze statue…

The Thinker / Le Penseur Sculpture, Plaza Congreso23. The Thinker: One of the few original-cast made copies of Rodin’s famous sculpture Le Penseur, or “The Thinker” in English. One theory is that it was sculpted in the image of Dante sitting outside the gates of Hell, pondering the great journey ahead of him (as depicted in the ‘Divine Comedy’) – therefore it’s position here is extremely appropriate, in that it faces the Palacio Barolo, another tribute to Dante’s epic poem, that also has its very own ‘gates of Hell’. Yet it seems that the only ones that appreciate this are the pigeons, who obviously can’t get enough of classic French sculpture 😉

Keep walking past the statue, down the center of the Plaza, and when you get to the road that intersects the middle of it, turn left to walk to the left-hand corner of the Plaza. Before you cross, look over the road to your left, where you should be able to see a small cafe…

The Madres de Plaza de Mayo Cafe and HQ24. Madres de Plaza de Mayo Cafe: This is the HQ of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo (whose symbols you saw back at the start of the tour), where they run a cafe, bookstore and university, to help fund their activities. Behind the sign above the cafe are photos of some of the estimated 30,000 ‘disappeared’ victims, the children of the mothers, who went missing during the military regime of 1976-83. Many were thought to have been drugged and pushed to their deaths from planes over the Rio de la Plata. Only now are some of the perpetrators being tried for these crimes against humanity.

Cross over into the second part of Plaza Congreso and walk down the left-hand side of the square. This area can be a little unsavory at times, but it is not dangerous. When you get to near the end of the square, find a good position to take a look at the large monument to your right…

Monumento de los dos Congresos, Plaza Congreso25. Monumento de los Dos Congresos: The centerpiece statue and fountain of Plaza Congreso was imported to order from Brussels in 1908, made from marble & bronze. The central figure represents the Argentine Republic, holding a laurel branch for victory (over colonial Spain) and resting on a plow, for the hard work of those that built the country. The statues each side represent the two key congresses in Argentine history: May 1810 and July 1816, that saw independence gained. The fountain symbolizes the main rivers of Argentina’s plains, all flowing into a pool, that is the River Plate estuary.

Turn round from looking at the monument to take a better look at the grand old Congress building over the road. Do not cross yet, as the best view of Congress from the outside is from here across the road. Also, on some days, you may not be able to cross the road with ease, as the area between the monument and Congress is often the starting place for protests. Again, don’t worry, these are not dangerous…

Argentine Congress Building, Plaza Congreso26. Congress Building: The most imposing building in BA opened in 1906, although it wasn’t finished until 1946! 40 years late is about average round here. Worth the wait though, as it is an architectural masterpiece, combining many influences to great effect: mainly neo-classical, but also with nods and winks to the US Capitol, the Garnier Opera House in Paris & Berlin’s Brandenburg Gates. Made from massive blocks of granite, 2m thick at the base, thus providing a safe haven for politicians from protests outside. One room is named after Evita, and painted a similar pink as the Casa Rosada!

Having started this Buenos Aires City Tour with something pink, at the Casa Rosada, it is quite appropriate to also end it on a pink note, so that is the end of the tour. If you were following along from a printed version of this page, well done for not getting lost along the way!

If you wish to return back to near the start of the tour to re-gain your bearings, you can go to Congreso subte station diagonally over the road to your right, and ride the A Line back to either the Peru or Plaza de Mayo station. That’s it!

Map of this self-guided Buenos Aires City Center Tour

You can find each of the numbered attractions detailed above in the following map. The majority of the numbered ‘pins’ point to the location of the attraction itself, which is not necessarily the exact place to stop – a number of the attractions are best viewed from across a road etc, as detailed in the directions in italics throughout the writing above. Oh, actually number 12 is the place to stop to view the Obelisk on this tour… obviously the real Obelisk itself is a few blocks down Avenida 9 de Julio, so it is not visible on this tour map.

Tour Map with Numbered Stops as detailed above

We hope you enjoyed reading this suggested route for a Buenos Aires city tour, and if you happen to print it out and follow it, then please enjoy!

However, if you are the type of person who likes to enjoy a more hassle-free, interesting vacation, please do consider taking the above walking tour with a personal, private guide – cut out the stress and worries, get personally informed on a whole lot more fascinating and useful info about Buenos Aires not mentioned in this post, have any questions answered about the tour or the city in general, and of course, enjoy a walking tour which might just be the happiest, most enjoyable part of your time in Buenos Aires!

If that all sounds good to you, then please…

BOOK A PRIVATE WALKING TOUR OF BUENOS AIRES CITY CENTER

Abasto Shopping Mall

December 11, 2006 by · 6 Comments 

Grand Shopping Center in Buenos Aires

Abasto corner

The Abasto shopping center is probably the one mall in Buenos Aires that has at least something to appeal to all people, of all ages. It’s wonderful 1930s Art Deco architecture and grand size add to the experience.

As far as shopping goes, it is full of mainstream clothes stores, and it boasts over 250 brands to choose from, including major labels like Nike, Lacoste and YSL. A bit logo-happy, but the building itself quite beautiful and unique (see right). And if size matters, it is one of the largest malls in the city of Buenos Aires (along with its newer, more modern counterpart, Dot Shopping in Saavedra, and Unicenter, the biggest mall in Argentina, which is technically outside the city limits).

This area of Abasto also has played a major role in the social and tango history of Buenos Aires, and for those reasons alone it is worth a quick visit, even if you are not interested in the shops inside. And there is also a range of things to see and do inside the center, which can be found near the end of this blog post.

History of the Mercado de Abasto

Mercado de Abasto

In 1893, a market fair started in this zone, which back then would have been referred to with its official barrio name of Balvanera. This official barrio is still found on the maps, but these days it is generally split into three unofficial, but more commonly used, areas, of Abasto, Once and Congreso – all named after major landmarks in each area (the Abasto mall, Once train station, and Congress building, respectively).

By 1930 Buenos Aires needed a wholesale distribution center for its food produce, and this old marketplace couldn’t cope with the needs of a rapidly growing population, so plans were projected by the architects Delpini, Sulsio and Besque for this grand structure to be erected as a new indoor home for the wholesale food market. Building began in 1931, and el Mercado de Abasto eventually opened in 1934. It soon became the center of the noisy, busy food trade in Buenos Aires. Crowds of workers would also drink, listen to tango music and play cards in the seedy bars around the market.

Art Deco Abasto

On the structural side, it was significant as the first building in Argentina to ever use cement for both its façade and indoor finish. The original façade is still the same as ever, with its lovely five curves at the front, the central one being wider and taller than the others, as can be seen in the picture above.

The Modern Abasto ‘Shopping’

Inside Abasto shoppingThe Abasto market set the lively pace of this neighborhood until it was closed down in 1984. This was due to its position in the middle of the city, which was seen as impractical, given that all of the produce came from the countryside and it meant unnecessarily travelling through most of the busy city to bring it here. And so a new central market was instead built on the city outskirts, which is the present Mercado Central, with the Abasto building sadly left abandoned to contemplate its former glory.

However, fifteen years later, in 1999, Abasto was reborn into a shopping center (or just ‘Shopping’, as they say in Buenos Aires), as it was refurbished completely on the inside, and with additional structures at the back and side, but keeping the original beautiful Art Deco façade.

Carlos Gardel’s Old Stamping Ground

The area around Abasto also just happens to be where the most famous tango singer of all time, Carlos Gardel, lived (with his mother) for most of his life. He was so closely connected to this area, that one of his nicknames was El Morocho del Abasto, which basically means ‘the dark-haired guy from Abasto’.

Carlos Gardel in his 'hood' of Abasto

In honor of this, a nice bronze statue of the immortal tango crooner stands just outside of the Abasto building, as shown in the picture over to the right.

Also within just a few blocks distance are his former house where he lived with his mother, on Jean Jaures 735, which is now a museum about his life, a small street named after him, called Pasaje Carlos Gardel, a subway station bearing his name, a corner tango house built in an 1893 bar that ressurects his songs in razzle-dazzle Argentine tango shows each night, and even a small street called Pasaje Zelaya where Gardel’s multi-colored mug is painted on most of the walls.

Finally, just across from the side of the mall is El Progreso Bar, on Anchorena 529, which happens to be one of the few places in Buenos Aires where Carlos Gardel actually sang (among other famous tango figures such as Tita Merello), which has also been preserved in the state it would have been in when Gardel performed there.

How to get to Abasto

Getting to the Abasto mall is fairly easy, thanks to an adjoining Subte (subway) station, called estacion ‘Carlos Gardel’, on the red B Line.

Also, if you are staying in a hotel, you can ask them to call 4338 2333 to arrange you free transport to and from the shopping center, which will certainly help if you are planning on going on a big shopping spree.

Things to do for families in Buenos Aires

Big wheel in the Abasto shopping center

The Abasto shopping center also includes several activities that may help to keep families with kids entertained when on holiday in Buenos Aires, for example:

  • A 12 screen cinema, which goes by the name of ‘Hoyts’ and shows all the major American, European and Argentine release.
  • A massive food court on the top floor where you can guiltily pig out on junk fast food, if that is, like me, one of your secret pleasures. This includes a Kosher McDonald’s restaurant, as Abasto is part of the Jewish area of Buenos Aires.
  • The Museo de Los Ninos, with its massive indoor big wheel (see right) and where kids can play at being adults in a ‘city’ scaled down to child size, where they can, for example, operate cranes on a building site, run a TV studio or man the helm of a ship. Open from 1-8pm on every day, except Mondays.
  • A fairly large games/amusements arcade replete with the usual flashing lights and games machines that gobble up pocket money at a fast rate.

Buenos Aires Cinema

If you are looking for a place to go to the movies in Buenos Aires, the Hoyts cinema complex in Abasto is an excellent choice for a laid back night at the cinema. It also serves up some tasty sweet popcorn, called pochoclo in Spanish, and if you want sweet, ask for dulce, or say salado for salted.

Also, if you go to the Hoyts cinema in the Abasto mall at night, you will get to see the outside of this wonderful building at its best, when its curves are lit up after dark, to stunning effect:

Abasto mall beautifully lit up by night

And finally, if you are on a budget, the cinema offers discounts on Wednesday nights, which is the day before the big releases come out. Almost all films in Buenos Aires are shown in the original English version, with Spanish subtitles, so there will be no potential language problems.

Location of Abasto Shopping Center

Corrientes 3247 (between Aguero & Anchorena), Abasto

Open 10am to 10pm daily,  Website: http://www.abasto-shopping.com.ar/

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