It’s Sunday noon in Buenos Aires. I am finishing up a cup of coffee, as a born and raised Porteño, I will not have lunch until 2:00 pm, so a coffee at noon sounds like a brilliant plan. It’s autumn, although the blue skies, the sun and 24ºC say otherwise.
I’m in San Telmo, one of the hundreds of neighborhoods in this spectacular city, and since it is Sunday the flea market across the street in Plaza Dorrego, is buzzing with people browsing through anything and everything you can imagine. From silver jewelry to old siphons, from Murano crystal vases to mate cups, you name it, it is impossible to come here and not to leave with something.
San Telmo is the oldest neighborhood in the city, born with the first settlers that came ashore in the early 1500s. Taking a stroll here is like being transported back in time; its narrow cobblestone streets, the colonial architecture all around you, the stories behind those walls, and even underneath their surface, dozens of churches, some near 300 years old. This is as close to walking through history as you can get.
Home to the richest families in town, San Telmo was, and still is, just blocks away from the political heart of the country, where the Cabildo building housed the viceroy’s offices, and where the first national government was established in 1810. In 1871, Buenos Aires suffered a yellow fever outbreak, killing 14,500 Porteños. Many decided to leave the city in search of better living conditions. Most of the families in San Telmo left the neighborhood in a panic. These beautiful houses were all but abandoned. Their tall carved wooden doors were left open, marble staircases could be seen from the outside, their balconies empty, their rooms stood in silence.
As I remember the story of this neighborhood I am walking north towards Plaza de Mayo. The feeling of seeing this beautiful square coming out of the narrow streets is simply amazing. To the left we still have the Cabildo Building, reminding us where it all started. To the right, overlooking the Rio de la Plata, stands the Pink House (the Presidential Palace), and across the street directly opposite me I can see the Buenos Aires Cathedral (exquisite construction, with a must see interior). Right next to the cathedral is City Hall; with its French architecture and refined style this is one of those buildings that make you take tons of pictures.
I walk to the center of the Plaza de Mayo, and try to feel for one second how it was to be on one of those people attending one of Evita’s speeches, (yes! this is the square in front of Evita’s balcony). It is almost impossible to conjure up the excitement that must have infused the square during that time: you have to be here, take a look at the dimensions of everything and then try your best to imagine what it was like to be surrounded by thousands of people, with signs, flags, drums, chanting and jumping because she was about to speak.
With this thought in my mind I walk to the nearest subway entrance to my next destination, I think you’ll like it. See you next time!
If you’d like Hernan to accompany you on a walking tour through one of Buenos Aires’ beautiful and historic neighbourhoods, you can contact him here: See Buenos Aires with Hernan.