30 Minute Ascent to Paradise

2008.Sep.17 Wednesday · 2 comments

in Life

 O human race born to fly upward, wherefore at a little wind dost thou fall.”

– Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy

Congreso from Palacio Barolo

Buenos Aires – It’s amazing how time flies. It’s been more than two years since I posted a little walking tour along Avenida de Mayo and mentioned some of the beautiful Beaux Arts style buildings, including the towering Palacio Barolo. At the time, I didn’t know that the building’s management offered guided visits, in both Spanish and English, but found out about them shortly thereafter. For two years it’s been on my list to do – and this week presented a perfect opportunity, on a fortuitous happenstance. I was out with a trio of friends who are in town visiting for my upcoming birthday (this Friday, 50, send gifts), and we’d decided to follow along the same route as part of our day out. We wandered in to the building just to look at the beautiful lobby, and by chance, the young man who guides the tours was there, and told us he had people coming for a tour in English in a mere quarter hour if we wanted to join. We agreed, popped down the block for a cafecito, and ran into one of our Casa SaltShaker guests from this last weekend, who turned out to be the person who’d booked the tour. We all returned together and started off on this rapid paced look at the building.

I’ll be honest here, I would have preferred something more in-depth on the history of the building, the architecture and passion that went into this allegory to Dante’s Divine Comedy. It’s even possible that at some time in the past the tour included more of that. At this point, however, it consists of a rapid fire delivery (his English is understandable, but not fluent by any stretch) that basically announces that the lower floors (the ground through 8th floors) are designed around the nine circles of hell, with demonic, dragonish sorts of figures (along with some explanation I didn’t quite get about the differences between the male and female lamp holders), inlaid gold colored metal spirograph-like designs on the floor that represent the pits of fire, and… well, no other detail, other than to point out that the elevators have some masonic touches, like the “A” in Ascensor and the tip of the floor indicator.

Palacio Barolo dragon lamps

Palacio Barolo elevator

We then hopped on an elevator up to The Terraces of Purgatory, the 9th floor, where one can look out over a circular balcony and down into the center of the lobby. Here, a fairly plain look, with nothing particular noted by our guide other than leaning over the railing (not something I do – I’m not good with heights), and that there were red and white tiles on the floors, and green ones outside of our view in the offices, representing the colors of the Italian flag. Within seconds we were back on the elevator and up to the 14th floor, the start of The Spheres of Heaven, where a small, one-person elevator is centered to take one up into the dome of the building, and a surrounding steep, narrow, spiral staircase is available to climb to the top (six levels to the observation deck from which the photos were taken (with me not getting too close to the edge…), and then another two spiral up through a tight squeeze into the lighthouse itself (not at all recommended for the acrophobic), a glass bubble with the light mechanism in it that didn’t really fit the six of us even with me cowering on the floor. The intent of the lighthouse was to send communications to the twin tower at the Palacio Salvo in Montevideo, Uruguay, and apparently it sorta-kinda works, the architect having not quite taken into account the bit of curvature of our planet, though one can see to Uruguay (in the distance in the second photo), there’s not quite a direct line of sight to the other tower I gather. Still, if one can manage from either observation point, there are some pretty amazing views of the Congreso plaza and the rest of the city laid out below.

Congreso Plaza from Palacio Barolo

Part of the city looking off towards Uruguay

This, is apparently what most visitors want to see, and I guess I can follow the logic even if I’d rather be inside and/or down below. So at least half the thirty minute tour is spent on the observation deck and in the bubble, with little commentary, just being left to one’s own devices to snap photos. A bit of a cheat for the 15 pesos price, but then, the only way to get these views.

Ken Sternberg September 17, 2008 at 21:39

Oh! What a wonderful building. Poor English or not, I’d gladly take the tour. It would be cool to have an apartment on the Terraces of Purgatory. That’s one lovely city you live in, Dan. And I know all about lovely cities because I live in Ipswich, Massachusetts.

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