It’s an easy 20 min walk from San Telmo, down Defensa and into the historic Plaza de Mayo, known of course for the Casa Rosada, where Evita would address the vast crowds from a small balcony, but also as the site of first European settlement in 1536. There’s some impressive early colonial architecture in BA and much of it is found here in the three interconnecting barrios of Retiro, San Nicolás and Monserrat and encompassing Microcentro, the Central Business District and main commercial centre of Argentina.
There’s an interesting old building at the south-west corner of Plaza de Mayo called The Cabildo, site of Spain’s early colonial administration which bore witness to the birth of Argentina’s early settlement, the British invasions of 1806 and 1807, the early days of independence and the Argentine Revolution in 1810.
We found an interesting map on the wall depicting the make-up of South America in 1819, with a much larger Brazil, then known as the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarve. Uruguay was known as ‘The League of the Free Peoples’ and a greatly reduced and splintered Argentina was known as Provincias Unidas (United Provinces) surrounded by two massive areas known as the Territorio Indígena, home of the Chaco and Mapuche people, stretching from the Atlantic across to the Pacific. Chile was also much smaller in size with Peru claiming much of modern-day Chile, and swallowing whole a back-then-non-existent Bolivia. Argentina is of course derived from the Latin for silver argentum, with the Spanish lending the Spanish equivalent to one of the vast rivers of the newly-emerging country Río de la Plata, the River of Silver.
Microcentro is home to many of Argentina’s major banks such as Banco de la Nacion, Banco Galicia, Banco Patagonia, Banco Provincia and Santander Rio amongst others – each seeking to out-do each other with impressively ornate and ostentatious French Academy, Second Empire and Beaux-Arts inspired architecture, with overwrought neo-classical statuary, heavy gold metal doors, each with an oppressive security detail bristling with firearms. It’s pretty impressive (and intimidating), though I have to say, in these tough days of austerity and spiralling inflation, it all feels rather obscene and out of place. Clearly Argentina was once fabulously rich, but the late 20thand now the early 21stCentury have been incredibly tough, with no end in sight it seems. In 2006 Argentina was ranked 13thlargest economy in the world sliding to 26thin 2018 (IMF ranking) – but still (barely) in the G20. As previously mentioned in another post, there are Federal elections in October so the fate of Argentina really is in the balance.
We wondered why Microcentro was so quiet. You could walk freely down the centre of some of the busiest avenidas and thoroughfares in the city with barely any traffic and the usual busy hordes of lunchtime office workers nowhere to be seen. Every now and again we’d come across an intersection snarled with angry trapped traffic, which can only mean one thing here in BA, a demonstration somewhere in the city.
Yesterday, social and activist groups across Argentina deployed their forces (office and factory workers) with massive demonstrations in 50 cities, demanding the government declare a food emergency and stop the severe austerity measures. BA’s manifestación was one of the largest seen in years, and that’s saying something! Incredibly, we missed all of this as we wandered freely in the city wondering where everyone was.