Wednesday 20th November
Wednesday was a busy day, having been to the botanical gardens and the Evita museum in the morning it was back on the subway to meet our guide for a tour of the City centre. Fortunately the subway was far less busy but the day had got a great deal hotter!
We began the tour at the National Congress building which is home to Argentina’s parliament (unfortunately it was covered in scaffolding for maintenance work) Victoria, our tour guide, had studied history at university and gave us a very comprehensive explanation of all the bulidings and Argentina’s history. Don’t worry I’m certainly not going to reproduce all of it in my blog but its certainly worth reading up on.
In front of the National Congress building is the Monument of Two Congresses which celebrates the centenary of the 1816 declaration of independence. Within the Plaza de Congresso square is one of the original bronze statues by Rodin entitled The Thinker.
As you walk up the avenue you can’t fail to see the Barolo Palace which references and pays homage to the Divine Comedy by Dante Alighie. Now I’ll be honest I don’t know anything about the Divine comedy but I could appreciate that the bottom section of the building represent Hell, the middle section purgetory and the top heaven. Interestingly there is not a lift that goes from the top to the bottom as you can’t go straight from hell to heaven..so you have to change to a different lift after purgetory! It is certainly an interesting building and at exactly 100metres high was once the tallest building in Buenos Aires.
The Gran Café Tortoni is Buenos Aires’ most famous cafe. It is based on the cafes in Paris and has been a meeting place for famous artists and scholars. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to stop but the inside has majestic, intricate moldings, a $1.4 million Tiffany glass ceiling, and many Tiffany lamps.
As move up towards the end of the avenue you reach Plaza de Mayo in wchich stands The Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral, the main Catholic church in Buenos Aires.
It is very simple from the outside but stunning inside. In 1880, the remains of General José de San Martín, regarded as one of the fathers of Argentina, were brought from France. They were placed in a mausoleum which is protected by three female statues representing the countries of Argentina, Chile, and Peru. It is guarded during the day by 2 soldiers, who we didn’t see in situ, but I managed to get a quick photo as they marched back from the cathedral to the Casa Rosada.
The Cabildo of Buenos Aires is one of the oldest remaining buildings in Buenos Aires. It has decreased in size over time but was originally used as seat of the town council during the colonial era and is now a museum.
The Mothers of the Disappeared
On April 30, 1977, Azucena Villaflor de De Vincenti and a dozen other mothers walked to the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina’s capital city.
These women shared the experience of each having had at least one child who had been ‘taken’ by the military government. The mothers declared that between 1970 and 1980, more than 30,000 individuals became “Desaparecidos” or “the disappeared.” These people were erased from public record with no government traces of arrests or evidence of charges against them.
The women decided to risk a public protest, although gatherings of more than three people were banned, by linking arms in pairs, as if on a stroll just across the street from the la Casa Rosada. The mothers chose this site for its high visibility, and they were hoping for information on their whereabouts to recover imprisoned or to properly bury their children.
The “disappeared” were believed to have been abducted by agents of the Argentine government during the years known as the Dirty War (1976-1983). Those whose location was found, often had been tortured and killed and bodies disposed of in rural areas or unmarked graves.
They still walk every Thursday at 3pm wearing white head scarves to symbolize the nappies of their lost children, embroidered with the names and dates of birth of their offspring.
Finally at the end of Avenida de Mayo is the Casa Rosada (Pink Palace). This is the executive mansion and office of the President of Argentina. The balcony to the left is the one from which Peron famously gave his speeches with Evita alongside. (It was used in the film Evita). It was under Domingo Sarmiento, that the Casa Rosada first donned its characteristic pink color. The first legend states, the Casa Rosada’s pink is the result of the mixing of cow’s blood into white paint, which was meant to protect the building from the ravages of Buenos Aires’s humid climate. The second possible answer, however, is that this color is the result of pure Argentine politics. By mixing the white of the Liberal party and the red of the Radicals, Sarmiento hoped to diffuse political tensions and symbolize the harmony of a grand nation.