Buenos Aires – Northern Barrios

Visited 26th and 28th of November, 2006

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Buenos Aires:

Other Argentina


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This page looks at Buenos Aires more affluent areas: the barrios of Retiro, Recoleta, and Palermo.

Go North, Rich Man

Generally Buenos Aires gets tonier as you travel North.  This has been going on at least since the 1870s when yellow fever struck San Telmo and affluent Porteños fled to the North.  Pretty much the money has been moving there ever since.  Today Barrio Norte is made up of Palermo, Recoleta, and Retiro neighborhoods with a few other places thrown in.  (The neighborhoods –called barrios – are based on the old Catholic parishes and often get their name from them.  For instance, Palermo is named for the Franciscan abbey of Saint Benedict of Palermo –even though plenty of Sicilians emigrated to Buenos Aires.)


Retiro’s Plaza San Martin

We’ll cheat a little and start our Northwest trek at our hotel which was located on Plaza San Martin in the Retiro area.  We walked through this serene park in the bustling ritzy shopping area of BA many times, enjoying its huge trees shading the boisterous children and the busy dog park.   While placid, the park is surrounded by multi-laned highways filled with menacing cars, so it is with some sense of relief that you enter the park, having just risked your life crossing the street.   Just North of the park is the Retiro train and bus station – the busiest transportation hub in the country.  To the South is the pedestrian mall of BA’s premier shopping venues.   (All this is a bit ironic as the name Retiro is derived from a place for retreat from the busy city – appropriate centuries ago when Retiro was a suburb.   Thankfully, Plaza San Martin still retains much of the repose that the rest of Retiro has lost).






Tip: click on any picture to see it enlarged.  Once you’ve done that, use the PF11 key to enlarge further.












That Great Big Apartment in the Sky

The wealthy Mrs. Kavanagh supposedly dumped her life savings into building the 33 story apartment building to spite (spire?) a neighborhood family who had rejected one of her offspring as a future in-law.  For years, The Kavanagh Building was the tallest building in South America and is still deemed an art deco jewel.  Read more by clicking here.

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Surrounded by a moat of bustling traffic, lies the placid and green Plaza San Martin.  The tall building at the near left is the modernist/art deco masterpiece the Kavanagh building.  We stayed at the funky Marriot below the mansard roof just up the street. 


Inside most of the plaza, you feel like you are in a deep but paved forest, so tight  is the tree cover.  The picture above pretty well captures the tree canopy. 


Would it surprise you that this park contains a statue of an Argentine war hero?  (There’s always a first!).  This one commemorates the greatest of them all, General Jose de San Martin, the Argentine George Washington (who is revered in Chile and Peru as well).  The Retiro area was a training ground for his troops in earlier days.  Somehow we managed to NOT take any pictures of San Martin’s monument, so you are spared the granite details.  We did get a picture of his mausoleum inside BA’s cathedral (click here if you must see THAT again).  Downhill (in a lot of ways) from San Martin’s statue stands a monument to less successful warriors.













Argentines who can’t make it to the plaza or cathedral frequently see Jose San Martin here:

Currency events: Inflation was 12% in Argentina in 2005. 


The plaza/park slopes down gently (and sometimes not so gently) to the North.  At the northern edge, the trees open to the vista below.  If you enlarge the picture below you can see the back of the Islas Malvinas War Memorial at lower left of center. (More on for neo-Cons).  Note the British looking tower.


Taken at the Plaza San Martin looking downhill toward the Torre Monumental (nee British Clock Tower) Click here to see a wide angle view (careful, it’s 1.6M!)


The park ends at the memorial to the 750 or so Argentines who died in the brief 1982 Falkland Island War (if you’re British) or Malvinas War (if you’re Argentine).   Like our Vietnam Wall in Washington DC, the names of the fallen are inscribed on the walls.  Half of the war deaths resulted from the sinking of a single ex-American WWII ship (U.S.S. Phoenix) that had been recommissioned by the Argentines as the ARA General Belgrano after much Spanish language immersion.


The Malvinas War was an ill-conceived and nearly unplanned attempt by the Argentine Junta to bolster public support for its failing government.  A quick victory would appeal to the Argentines' nationalism.  Victory was indeed quick (10 weeks) but came to the Brits.  Argentina’s military failure caused its own regime change as democracy rose up once again in this troubled nation.  (Should we have waited for Saddam Hussein to attack us?)


Sheep now safely graze

About 2500 British descendants (and 700,000 sheep) live in the self governing British Falklands archipelago 300 miles northeast of the bottom of the continent.  The combined land mass of the islands is about the size of Connecticut


People density is about 0.5 people per square mile (these people are obviously not very dense).  But two-thirds of the population live in its only town, Port Stanley.


South Americans call the islands “Malvinas” since early French settlers named them after St. Malo in France.   (Don’t ask me how the Brits got their name.)


Do the math: To protect the 2500 residents, the Brits keep 2000 troops stationed there.  The war itself cost the lives of over 1000 soldiers on both sides.  Argentine’s great writer Jorge Luis Borges called the war "a fight between two bald men over a comb."


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At the Northermost end of the Plaza San Martin stands the memorial to the 652 Argentines (mostly young conscripts) who died in the Malvinas/Faulkland War and whose names fill the dark plaques that wrap around the wall.

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Lots more architectural details available by clicking here

Torre de los Ingleses or the British Clock Tower or Torre Monumental (A rose by any other name?)

Directly across the bus clogged street from the War Memorial stands in huge ironic juxtaposition, the British Clock Tower (Torre de los Ingleses).  After the Falklands fiasco, perhaps in a fit of phallic pique, the Argentines renamed it Torre Monumental (a name no one uses).  With somewhat delayed reaction, a mob attacked this British symbol several years after the war concluded). 


The British residents of BA funded the tower to commemorate the centenary of Argentinean independence.  Construction lasted from 1909 through 1916 and used British techniques and material (Portland stone and Leicester bricks) imported from England.  The only major country NOT to send a delegation to the May 1910 cornerstone laying ceremony was England as King Edward VII chose to die rather than attend.  As good an excuse as any.


The picture at left shows the emblem commemorating a more pleasant time in British-Argentine relations complete with symbols of the empire such as the non-setting sun and campaign hat.
















Get a birds-eye view of the tower and the Retiro area by clicking here



Into shopping?  Just south of our hotel was the upscale Galerias Pacifica complete with Castagnino murals on the pedestrian walkway Calle Florida.


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The 250 foot British Clock Tower with the new port area in the background



Estación Retiro – The Retiro Train Station

Across the street from tower is another of reminder of the Brits influence – Argentina’s biggest train station and the area’s transportation hub linking trains, the subway, and a 24 hour bus system running over a hundred routes.


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The Retiro Train Station built (like much of the railway system in Argentina) with British capital and expertise.  Here it looks very French like many of the buildings in chic Retiro.




To see several more of our pictures (and a little text) from the Recoleta Cemetery, click here.

Recoleta Cemetery

Next we proceed further North to Buenos Aires’ most popular tourist attraction, the Recoleta Cemetery.  If Paris entombs in Père Lachaise, then the great Paris imitator of Buenos Aires must bury its rich and famous in similar style.   But while the Paris version is in the gritty 20th arrondissement (district), Recoleta anchors one of BA’s most upscale (and Parisian-looking) areas.  (Everyone is dying to get into Recoleta, but not necessarily in the cemetery).  Recoleta opened (is that the verb we use for cemetery start-ups?) in 1822, only 14 years after Napoleon established Père Lachaise in the northeastern suburbs of Paris.)


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The walls of Recoleta cemetery surrounded by fashionable high rises


Recoleta holds about 350,000 dead in 6400 tombs in 4 city blocks patrolled by about 75 feral cats fed by volunteers twice daily.  This area has been among the most affluent in BA since the 1870s when the rich fled the southern yellow-plagued infested San Telmo neighborhood.










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While it’s THE place to stay after death,  Recoleta is a pretty good place to be alive.  Above is one of the oldest buildings in Buenos Aires (1732) which was converted from a Franciscan convent eventually into the Recoleta Culture Center which includes a hands-on Children’s Museum.  At the picture bottom is Buenos Aires Design, an upscale home furnishings mall.


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End of the road: A typical street in the Recoleta cemetery


Cemeteries started in BA when the government forbad burial in churches but allowed internment at the site of the Monastery of the Recoletos (a group of barefoot French Franciscans).  This site was originally called the “Cemetery of the North.”   Families chisel their surnames on the marble tombs and put individual members’ names on bronze plaques (as we see in Eva Peron’s family tomb below.  As a Latin American woman, Eva kept her family name of Duarte (which wasn’t hers to start as she was illegitimate) even after death.











Danse macabre – tango style


María Eva Duarte de Perón (nicknamed Evita) died at age 33 of cancer in 1952.  Among her many accomplishments was reengineering her birth certificate to make her birth legitimate, thus getting her into the Duarte Family Mausoleum on the right.  A lot of history got rewritten around Eva, depending upon who the winners were at the time.  While revising her birth records, she subtracted 3 years from her age.  Since statesmen didn’t socialize with actors (Ronald Reagan anyone?), the Perons banned the showing of all of her movies in Argentina.   Even though she didn’t get to be vice-president as her adoring masses requested, Eva was the first woman in Argentina to wear pants in public.  Governments may fall but fashion is forever!


The first coup to overthrow the Perons (1955) banned not only the Peron political movement, but even the mention of the Peron name (and, of course, pictures of Evita).


After her death (most likely from cancer),  Eva’s body became a symbol of Peronism and had a bizarre life of its own.  Peron planned a monument larger than the Statue of Liberty but he was overthrown before he could complete it,  (perhaps by the taste police.)  Many wax copies were made of Eva’s corpse before the Junta squirreled it away Milan, Italy.


When he returned to power in 1971, Juan Peron exhumed Evita’s body and kept it in his house (presumably with his third wife Isabel who happened to be alive). He certainly didn’t keep his distance.  When Isabel became president, she had Evita’s body buried under trapdoors and a huge amount of concrete.   Che sera, sera.


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Eva Peron’s body is finally at rest deep beneath her family tomb.


While many famous Argentines rest in Recoleta, most tourists make a beeline for Eva Peron’s Tomb.  Probably the most controversial Argentine of her or our time, Eva combined the social conscience of Eleanor Roosevelt with the glamour of Jackie Kennedy – but instilled love/hate in the populace similar to Hillary Rodman Clinton.  She almost became the first woman vice-president until the Generals told her husband/president Juan Peron that they would overthrow him if she did.  (They didn’t want to take orders from a woman if Juan died.  A Junta overthrew him anyway.  Eva was clearly ahead of her time:  When he returned to power, Peron made his third wife vice-president, and María Estela Martínez de Perón (Isabel Perón) succeeded to the presidency in 1974 (followed by another junta in 1976 which stayed in power until the Falklands war).  Quite a cheney of events!





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Who needs the Malba: we brought our own work of modern art (although not that Latino-ish) posing here in front of the Jacaranda trees that make the museum just as colorful on the outside.  She’ll claim to be a work still in progress. 



The Malba Museum



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The Malba with its Jacaranda blooms

A little north of the Recoleta Cemetery area, we found the almost brand new Colección Costantini / Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires -- the official name BA’s great Latin American modern art museum known as the Malba.  We enjoyed several hours of picture-less browsing and then headed further north (and symbolically very much to the East) to …





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The tea room of the Japanse Gardens where we had a zen lunch


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See the rest of our Japanese Garden pictures by clicking here.

Jardín Japonés -- The Japanese Garden

Upscale Recoleta turns into the huge and park-filled (over 350 acres of green)  Palermo barrio.  The 1000 acre, Bois de Boulogne-inspired Parque Tres de Febrero surrounds one of the world’s largest Japanese Gardens.


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Like any Japanese Garden worth its name, BA’s contains the red lacquered bridge (This one named Puente de la Buena Ventura  or Bridge of Good Ventures) crossing to an island with stone lanterns (this one named Isla de los Dioses or Island of the Gods)


BA’s garden dates from 1967 when it entertained then Crown Prince (now Emperor Akihito) of Japan.  Ten years later, landscape artist Yasuo Inomata added Zen touches.  While we were there, about half of the pond (which occupies about 70% of the ten-acre gardens) was drained for maintenance.  But the grounds were replete with spring blooms of some of the 150 plant species here – most of them brought from Japan.






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The streets of Recoleta

Here are a few pictures to portray street life in the ritzy Recoleta area.  Below are two of the mansions in the area just behind the Melba museum—one in an adaptive Spanish style, the other modern.  Both are into that tower thing just like the rich Tuscan families during the renaissance.


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Street scene in upscale Palermo, Buenos Aires

At left is landscaping typical of this immaculately groomed area.









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Hyperbole, anyone?  Catalano’s signature building was his own home in Raleigh, North Carolina, called the “house of the decade.” 

Our walk also took us by the large but sparsely populated sculpture garden by the Buenos Aires Art Museum:


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Aluminum Magnolias: upper right --Eduardo Catalano’s Floralis Generica in Plaza de las Naciones Unidas, near the Buenos Aires law school and the Buenos Aires Art Museum; lower left – Floralis Houstonius


Above is Floralis Generica sculpted by Buenos Aires-born Eduardo Catalano, professor emeritus at MIT and architect of the Julliard building in New York’s Lincoln Center.  The six 60 foot petals open in the morning and close at night with a set of hydraulics and motors that take 20 minutes to complete the cycle.  To see them at work, click here.































Will bark for food: In the poorer sections, soup kitchens display signs soliciting donations so that the city’s children can eat as well as its dogs.  .

The Dogs of Buenos Aires

And finally, since we discussed the strays of Chile, we must tell you about Buenos Aires spoiled dogs:


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Dog Gone – to Heaven! Paseaperros can handle as many as 30 dogs at a time.  Look closely and you may see a famous Houston dog lover in this picture.  (Hint: Pink)


If a dog’s life is good in the USA, it is downright heavenly in Argentina.  One measure of how well the economy is doing is the number of professional dog walkers, called paseaperros plying their trade (at about $100/month per dog in a country whose GDP per person per month is around $600).  Many of the fanciest parks (like the Plaza de San Martin) have exclusive dog yards where the paseaperros exercise the dogs for a minimum of two hours. 


In this most Parisian of places, the contrast is obvious.  Buenos Aires dogs are large and traveled in leashed packs facilitated by paseaperros while in Paris the dogs are usually tiny with one per owner (but probably just as spoiled).




Adios and thanks for joining us on our South American tour.




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