Buenos Aires – I had a couple of hours before my lunch date yesterday, and after running a few errands found myself near to the Plaza Congreso. The plaza has become home to daily gatherings of the unemployed and/or homeless – most just seem to choose a spot that is theirs for the day, some stay throughout the night, the fountain in the center varies between use as a bathing area for them and a play pool for local children. While certainly not the most rundown or dangerous of plazas in the city, except for weekends when an artesanal crafts fair takes over the park, it is one of the less savory.
Stretching from the National Congress building to the Presidential Palace is the famed Avenida de Mayo, the city’s official processional route. I’ve travelled it by bus and taxi, purely by happenstance, and even walked the length once during the gay pride parade, though my attention wasn’t on the architecture that time. Back during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, this was one of the main avenues to be completely rebuilt in a style that was intended to imitate the capitols of Europe, and especially Paris. Most of the buildings built at that time are still standing, and are a tribute to the French Beaux Arts architectural style.
Beaux-Arts architecture depended on sculptural decoration along conservative modern lines, employing French and Italian Baroque and Rococo formulas combined with an impressionistic finish and realism. Slightly overscaled details, bold scuptural supporting consoles, rich deep cornices, swags and sculptural enrichments in the most bravura finish the client could afford gave employment to several generations of architectural modellers and carvers of Italian and Central European backgrounds. – from the Wikipedia
Possibly the most famous landmark building on the avenue is the Palacio Barolo, at #1370. Finished in 1923 for a rather wealthy textile merchant, Luis Barolo, and, at the equivalent height of 24 stories was the highest building in Buenos Aires at the time. The dome has a lighthouse with 300,000 small lights in it, most famously used for broadcasting the results of the Dempsey-Firpo fight to the residents along the coast of Uruguay, nearly 60 kilometers away! The Italian architect, Mario Palanti, had a thing for Dante’s Divine Comedy, and the building is filled with allusions to that work – a division into three parts of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, the dome containing representations of the nine angelic choirs, and the building having a height of 100 meters, to represent the 100 songs of the Comedy. The Salvo Palace, in Montevideo, Uruguay, is a twin to the Barolo.
In the world of quirky museums falls the Tax Museum, officially known as the Museo Historico de la Administracion Federal de Ingresos Publicos. Housed on the fifth floor of the AFIP (government tax bureau) offices, it’s not one of the city’s better known touring spots. In fact, the guard at the door seemed completely flustered that someone actually wanted to visit it, first suggesting that it probably wasn’t open (despite its posted hours) – that no one was probably up there to let me in; and then letting me know that the fee for entrance was most likely “at least 15 pesos, far too expensive for visiting a museum.” I decided to venture upstairs anyway, indeed found no one in the museum itself (though I could hear two folk in the neighboring museum office chatting), and, there is no entrance fee. The museum is dedicated to pretty much anything that has to do with various taxes, especially in regard to immigration and importation, and includes everything from displays of historical decrees and paperwork, to tax stamps, to old tax office counters, to adding machines, to luggage displays. For those into social and government history, it’s a fascinating glimpse into that world. The building that the museum is in is the former Majestic Hotel, now home to the offices of AFIP.
At 1199 is this interesting looking building. I wasn’t able to find out anything about it, but liked its look. Its major claim to fame, as such, is that on the ground floor it houses the Restaurante Plaza Asturias, one of the city’s most famous old-line Spanish restaurants, and somewhere I have yet to make it to. The 1100 block is the last block on the west end of the avenue, before crossing the 18-lane expanse of Av. 9 de Julio. One of the last interesting buildings is the Hotel Castelar, built by the same architect who built the Palacio Barolo, and originally called the Hotel Excelsior. Though the facade itself isn’t all that special, what I noted was way up at the roof line, where the sloped roof is dotted with several stories of windows – sort of attic hotel rooms. I continued on across the boulevard, and into the eastern section of Avenida de Mayo, where the architecture starts to trend a bit more modern – many buildings have been replaced during the last century, and there was also a slight turning towards the art nouveau style.
These windows caught my eye, they must have been an extraordinary amount of work, as not only are the structures in the lefthand one curved (I don’t think turret would be the correct word, but have no idea what the correct one would be), but it appears, at least from below, that so is the glass, though that may just be an illusion due to the distance. The other one I just liked the varied carvings or embossings (or whatever the process is) in the facade.
At 825 I came across the famed Café Tortoni, possibly the most historically well known café in Buenos Aires. It falls into one of those “must go” spots, that for one reason or another I haven’t. It really comes down to being an elegant coffee shop, but was, in its day, the gathering spot for some of Argentina’s most famous writers, artists, and actors. Leaning heavily towards the touristy end these days (and the main reason I haven’t bothered), it’s still a major piece of history (and therefore I ought to…).
The avenue ends in the 600 block, just at the edge of the Plaza de Mayo where the Casa Rosada, the presidential palace, is located. The final two buildings, on opposite corners, are the Casa de Cultura, advertising itself as an exhibition and sales hall for the government’s cultural office. In truth, the “exhibition” is little more than a display of guide books and historical books on the city and its architecture. The best thing about the place are the piles of brochures and announcements about cultural events all over the city. Those are free for the taking, and there are even information booth folk to give you advice on where to go to see various things. Across the street is this church complex, taking up about half the block. There seems to be a daily crafts fair taking place in its courtyard, often with more interesting items than the stuff seen at most of those fairs around the city.