The central business and political district of Buenos Aires, the Microcentro, is not an area that is famed for its exciting nightlife or buzzing street life. What it lacks in terms of excitement, it makes up for in grand monuments and architecture celebrating the glory years of Argentina’s past. Leaving the once glamorous cobbled streets of San Telmo behind we strolled northwards, weaving our way towards Plaza de Mayo and the home of Argentinian presidents past and present, the Casa Rosada.
Our route passed Avenida Paseo Colón, and the neo-classical Faculty of Engineering building with imposing Doric columns. The Faculty building was built in the mid-1950s and was intended as the headquarters of the Eva Peron Foundation. Her death, and the overthrow of her husband’s government, saw it given to the Faculty in 1956. For all its grandeur, we hadn’t come here to see the building. In the square opposite is one of the city’s more dramatic public sculptures: fourteen bronze figures dragging a huge rock called Canto al Trabajo (Ode to Labour).
Plaza de Mayo is the epicentre of power in Argentina and, on the day we arrived, it was looking very underwhelming. The area was being dug up and the fencing surrounding the Casa Rosada had been defaced with graffiti. Nearby is the Metropolitan Cathedral where religious power resides. It’s newly famous for being the former home of Pope Francis, currently making headlines in Latin America for all the wrong reasons. Almost next door is the former colonial government building, the pre-independence seat of power, now the Museum of National History.
Strolling up the grand Avenida Presidente Roque Sáenz Peña brought us to one of the most famous sights in Buenos Aires, the 67.5 metre tall Obelisco. Sitting in the middle of the Avenida 9 de Julio, which at 140 metres wide is the widest street in the world, the Obelisco celebrates Argentina’s independence from Spain in 1816. It may be one of the best known symbols of Argentina, but it wasn’t always popular. In 1939 the mayor of Buenos Aires gave orders to have it demolished. The intervention of the national government was needed to save it.
Avenida 9 de Julio is a major transport hub, so we jumped on a bus towards the Retiro train station and the delightful Plaza San Martin. Opposite the train station is the Torre Monumental, better know until the mid-1980s as the English Tower, a redbrick clock tower presented to the city by the British to celebrate the centenary of Independence in 1916. The tower is a symbol of the complicated and intertwined history that Britain and Argentina share.
It celebrates the migration and financial investment that flowed from Britain in the 19th and 20th centuries, but became an obvious symbol of protest against Britain in the 1980s following the Falklands/Malvinas War. Buenos Aires had many such symbols of British influence, like the English Tower most were renamed during the nationalist fervour that followed the war. Pointedly, facing the English Tower a short stroll away are both the Plaza de Malvinas and the Monument to the Fallen in the Malvinas.
We walked uphill through the Plaza San Martin towards the Recoleta, where we took a table under a giant rubber tree at the Café La Biela, a Buenos Aires institution with a suspiciously British-looking phone box outside its entrance. Jorge Luis Borges was just one of the famous patrons of La Biela and it’s worth taking a look at the old-fashioned interior. Refreshed we walked through a park to the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, which had an interesting Joan Miró exhibition, before ending on a bench reflecting on this complex city at the reflecting pool of the glorious Floralis Genérica.