Buenos Aires – Monserrat – Avenida de Majo
This is another architecture walk I did starting from from 575 Avenida de Mayo and finishing at Plaza Congreso, all in the barrio of Monserrat.
At 575 Avenida de Mayo you will see the Casa de Cultura (the office for culture in BsAs) which used to be the home of La Prensa, an important newspaper. Frommers describes a tour of the interior (weekends only) as ‘a must do’ but it looked closed up on the day I went. On the exterior though I loved the ornate lion’s head door knockers.
At 825 Avenida de Mayo you’ll find Café Tortoni, the most famous café in the city. It’s so popular that you’ll probably have to queue to get in. I was up for a coffee and a medialuna but the service was so poor that I just took some snaps and left.
Continue along Avenida de Mayo and cross over Avenida 9 de Julio which is the world’s widest avenue. It can take quite a while to cross the five sub streets, maybe two or three flashing green men, but I have managed to sprint across the whole width in one go. If you go more slowly though you can take in the fountains and the Don Quixote monument.
At 1152 Avenida de Mayo is the architecturally unimpressive Hotel Castelar. Once one of the most important hotels in the city, this is where Lorca the famous Spanish poet lived for six months in 1933. Apparently his room has been kept as a shrine and can be visited by arrangement.
On the north side of Avenida de Mayo where it meets Santiago del Estero you’ll find the Hotel Chile, another formerly important hotel. The Art Nouveau structure has Middle Eastern influences with round window tops decorated with faience (ceramic glaze).
At 1333 Avenida de Mayo is my second favourite building on this walking tour, the Art Deco Federal Police HQ. I adore the ornate statues on the façade. Frommers suggest just wandering inside for a look but it was always closed whenever I went past.
At 1370 Avenida de Mayo is my favourite building; the highly eccentric Palacio Barolo, which was once the highest building in South America. Its Italian freemason designer Mario Palanti intended it to be an architectural celebration of Dante’s Divine Comedy (the poet was also a mason). I snuck in for a look at the lobby which, with its light bearing dragons and condors and coiled snakes in the corners, is meant to symbolise Hell.
I came back on another occasion with my friend Nicky and took the guided tour. The middle floors represent Purgatory and are relatively unadorned although the cornices have faces if you look at them from a certain angle. From the 14th floor you ascend narrow stairs into Heaven, which is represented by a lighthouse.
From the upper levels you can get stunning views over the city and Plaza Congreso. Actually sitting in the lighthouse with your backs to the glass windows can be quite vertigo inducing though! Originally the parabolic mirror sent a beam of light to a sister building, Palacio Silva in Montevideo, (please see my Montevideo Centro post).
You can join an English speaking tour (at 5, 6 and 7pm most evenings, more times at the weekend) by reserving first (Tel. 4391 1885 or 5027 9035) and then paying for your tickets ($135 in 2014) at the small Art Nouveau ticket booth on the ground floor. The tour is one of my top tips for experiences to be had in Baires.
Continue up Avenida de Mayo and on the south side between San Jose and Peña you will see La Inmobliaria, an Art Nouveau office block with an ornate tiled sign at the top of the façade. This building marks the end of Mayo and the beginning of Plaza Congreso.
In the Plaza you can see a copy of Rodin’s Thinker aka El Pensador in Spanish. Next to it is the Kilometro Cero from which all distances from BsAs are measured.
Next you’ll see the fountains of the Monument of the Two Congresses. I’m not a fan as I think it obstructs the view of the Congress itself.
I’m told the guided tours of the Congress building are quite interesting. Ask about them at the Rivadavia entrance.
To the right of the Congress is another favourite building, the sadly derelict Confiteria de Molino with its windmill tower. Once the informal meeting place for all the politicians from next door, the Art Nouveau café was closed in 1997. There are plans to renovate and reopen it one day but the state of the Argentinean economy hadn’t allowed it at the time of writing in 2014.