I’ve been in Buenos Aires for 3 months now and I really have remained protected in a little bubble that is my social group here; in all the time I have spent here I haven’t once been to the city centre or even seen the famous BA obelisk! Aside from a brief skim of the BA Wikipedia page before I moved here I didn’t really know anything about the history of this city, although I have seen the film about Evita, so I guess if push comes to shove I could probably do a musical number about the popular first lady of Argentina.
My lack of knowledge on the city gave me a perfect excuse to go on a private walking tour with BuenosTours of the city centre, get my bearings as to where the major landmarks are, see some sights and get some historical knowledge (by the bucketload)!
We began by meeting our American tour leader, Jessica, at Basilica de Santo Domingo, a famous and well loved church from the seventeen to eighteen hundreds, in which British invaders were defeated by the defenders of Buenos Aires. The east tower has false cannon balls embedded in it as monument to a great moment in Argentina’s history. We are taken inside the church itself which is as stunning as you’d expect churches from this period, gold leaf adorns the walls and a huge mosaic floor catches your eye instantly. From here we make our way down multiple backstreets where we are shown amazing turn of the century architecture and the difference between the Italian and Parisian influences are explained. Its amazing how the old and the new is melted together on one street, a particularly old and influential historical building has now been turned into a car park!
We stop for lunch at a cafe called Tortoni, which we are told is the quintessential cafe of Buenos Aires and I can see why. Opened in 1858 it a gathering place for the cultural elite in the 19th century, particularly for tango, with multiple stages for shows to take place and pictures and paintings of renowned visitors adorn the walls. The waiters still wear the same tuxedo uniform (not literally I hope) from the 1800’s.
After lunch we walk across the “self-proclaimed widest avenue in the world” and take the subway “the Subte” towards the main plaza to see the pink house and other landmarks. The reason I’m including the subway at all is because you take Line A, which involves a ride on the oldest subway in the southern hemisphere complete with ‘original’ wooden carriages from 1913. I have no idea if this was a kind of ship of Theseus (Trigger’s broom to UK readers) but it was still very impressive!
Upon exiting the subway we arrived at the main Plaza del Mayo, home to the metropolitan cathedral and the famous Pink House, from where the most beloved leaders in Argentina made their historical and moving speeches. I have to admit, having been dragged through most churches, cathedrals, museums, art exhibits and landmarks in Europe, I have always been underwhelmed by most architecture, but I was still impressed by the grandeur of both buildings and Jessica’s knowledge was extensive to say the least. She answered all the questions I asked and even some that I didn’t, which is a skill in itself! 3 hours was the perfect length of the tour for me personally, although if you are a history buff or want a more relaxed tour without having to rush I could see the appeal of the longer tour that they offer. There were other locations I haven’t mentioned here that are worth seeing but if you want to see for yourself then pop along on a private tour, its a far more intimate experience than going with one of the larger public tours and you really aren’t left wanting for information!
By Richard Porter. Richard works at The Argentine Experience.