Buenos Aires is often referred to, and with good reason I have to say, as the Paris of South Amercia. Not only does it have the grand boulevards to rival the Champs Elysees (controversial perhaps, Richard?) but it has gorgeous cobble-stoned barrios such as Palermo and San Telmo that remind me in parts of the Left Bank, the Marais or Pigalle. Then there’s the grand and oh so stylish avenidas of Santa Fe, Corrientes, Cordoba, Alvear, de Mayo and so many others, plus the many gorgeous Belle Époque buildings in Microcentro, Recoleta and Retiro where you could often be mistaken for thinking you’re walking along the Gran Via in Madrid. There are many grand avenues in BA, too many to mention here, and all so reminiscent of classical old Europe, it’s as if the burghers of this city were trying to ‘out grand’ the grandest of the old world cities. Indeed, many of these buildings and street-scapes were designed and built by well-known European architects, so you can imagine the wealth of this city at the turn of the 20thCentury. France must have been plundered at the time, stripped of its antique furniture, chandeliers and anything marble!
One of BA’s grandest but loveliest plazas has to be San Martin. It has at its centre a genteel park with imposing statues and an enormous old Ombú tree, native to the Pampa of Argentina, with gigantic extended branches that are so massive they need now to be supported by huge metal struts – it’s very impressive and anchors this beautiful peaceful plaza in a canopy of cool green shade.
Even more impressive here (if that’s possible) are the grandest of all BA’s grand Palacios, of which again there are many. On one side is the Palacio San Martin whilst opposite across the park is possibly BA’s most opulent and certainly largest French-style Palacio, Palacio Paz at 12,000 square metres!
These two Palacios take up an entire city block each and were completed as private residences in 1912 and 1914 respectively. They are extremely fine examples of an architectural fusion of two eras: opulent Belle Époque and Art Nouveau (that’s how long they took to build) with nearly all the materials including the marble shipped in from France, resulting in an interior look that also blends Louis XVI and Renaissance. Palacio Paz remains the largest single-family residence ever built in Argentina, sadly now a government building (though you can take a scheduled tour – again, you’re not allowed to visit unchaperoned).
There are Palacios everywhere in BA, some open, some private, some turned over to government institutions whilst some are now museums. Pretty much all of them were built in the late 1800’s, early 1900’s – each outdoing the other in grandeur.
A few worth mentioning – and I’ll try to get to see them whilst here are:
Palacio Errázuriz Alvear – now the Museum of Decorative Art.
Palacio Duhau – now the 5-star Duhau Park Hyatt and inspired by the Chateau de Marais.
Palacio Bosh – a French-style palace now used as the residence of the American ambassador.
Palacio Pereda – one of many elegant Palacios along the Avenida Alvear ‘La Bella Vista’, the building is now the residence of the Brazilian ambassador.
Palacio Ortiz Basualdo – almost demolished to make way for the Avenida 9 de Julio but saved, requiring the dead-straight Avenida to bend around the Palacio. It’s now the French Embassy.
Palacio Álzaga Unzué – a wedding gift by Felix de Alzaga Unzué to his new wife, Elena Peña (lucky Elena!), now the Four Seasons Hotel.
Palacio Fernández Anchorena – a grand mansion on the equally grand Avenida Alvear, now the home of the Vatican Embassy.
And if all this wasn’t enough, there are of course the similarities to New York – yep, standing on Avenida Juan de Garay or San Juan I swear I could be crossing 2ndAve on the Upper East Side.