the thousand souls of buenos aires
Buenos Aires is an immense cosmopolitan metropolis that has become one of the most important cities in Latin America. A modern city, which has preserved its old traditions and some of its most fascinating features. Over the years, it has expanded chaotically: colonial houses proudly standing alongside Italian-style churches, while Madrid-style streets blend with Parisian neighbourhoods, and English lawns with minarets and New York skyscrapers. Its most famous monument, the Obelisk, is located right at the heart of this bedlam, between Avenida Corrientes and Avenida 9 Julio. Inaugurated on 23 May 1936 to celebrate the fourth centenary of the city's foundation, the Obelisk stands 67.5 metres tall and has only one entrance door, which can be reached via a staircase with 206 steps.
The genuine soul of Buenos Aires should, however, be sought in its barrios, each with its own history. One such barrio is the district of Palermo spread out over a vast area: one side home to the city's green space with large parks including the botanical, Japanese and zoological gardens, while the other hosts the trendiest area known as Palermo Viejo with its ultra-chic spaces, bars and restaurants.
Art and history lovers will adore Recoleta, the residential district that was built thanks to the Franciscan order of the "Convento de los Recoletos" that settled in the area at the beginning of the 18th century. Recoleta is famous for its historical monuments and its great cultural spaces, including the Museum of Fine Arts, the National Library, the Cemetery and the Floralis Genérica. The Museo de Bellas Artes, or Museum of Fine Arts, boasts an exceptional and vast collection of national art from the 19th and 20th centuries, as well as works by European masters such as Rembrandt, Rubens, Renoir, Cézanne, Morandi, El Greco, Rodin and Chagall. In addition to being a place where you can read every day from seven in the morning until midnight, the Biblioteca Nacional, or National Library, is a leading cultural institution. The National Library is a colossal building that looks as if it could launch itself into space, were it not for the weight of the five million books and documents housed inside.
The Cemetery, on the other hand, is one of the most captivating places in Recoleta. Several prominent Argentinians are buried here, including Evita Perón. Evita was born into a humble family, then married President Perón and died at the age of 33: she became a charismatic fascination for the crowds and a daring champion of women and the helpless. The Floralis Genérica was designed and financed by the architect Eduardo Catalano in 2002. It is an impressive sculpture in aluminium and steel representing a huge flower. Every morning, the fabulous Floralis Genérica unfolds its six petals to welcome a new day, and then closes them at sunset.
Not to be missed is the Plaza Dorrego, where time seems to stand still while you admire the facades of the houses and the vintage objects displayed in the stalls. At the cafeteria tables people chat while sipping mate, a special kind of tea that is drunk with a straw from an oval container, which replaces the gourds that were originally used. The city's soundtrack plays along to tango, the most popular dance in Argentina that has been exported all over the world, to the extent that it was granted World Heritage Status by Unesco. Argentinian tango shows can easily be found in clubs or theatres around the city.
One of the most unusual districts of Buenos Aires is La Boca, which owes its name to its location on the Riachuelo estuary, in Río de la Plata. This lively, colourful neighbourhood has been used for many years as a port. In fact, its port activity has attracted numerous immigrants, especially the Genoese who settled there in search of work. The houses were built of wood with panels that were brightly coloured with the excess paint from the port, giving the neighbourhood an original and fascinating appearance. The main attraction of this barrio is the unusual Caminito road: a road, more beautiful and interesting than any museum in the city. Amidst the colourful and characteristic buildings on Caminito we find numerous restaurants, bars and artists' workshops, as well as tango dancers who charm visitors with the magic of their dance steps. It is also home to the stadium of the famous Boca Juniors football team, known as "La Bombonera" and inaugurated in 1940.