Buenos Aires – San Nicolás – an architecture walk along Avenida de Mayo

This is another architecture walk I did in 2011, starting from the Casa Rosada (Presidential Palace) in Plaza de Mayo and finishing at Plaza Congreso (Parliament Square). You’ll find everywhere mentioned on my map.

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.

The ornate lion’s head door knockers on the exterior went some way to making up for it.

Just off Avenida de Mayo, at 78 Chacabuco, is a building dating from 1911 by Julián García Núñez who is considered to be the greatest Catalan Modernisme architect to have worked in Argentina.

At 825 Avenida de Mayo you’ll find Café Tortoni www.cafetortoni.com.ar, the most famous café in the city.

It’s so popular that you’ll probably have to queue to get in. I was game for a coffee and a medialuna but the service was so poor that I just took some snaps and left.

For a less touristy Art Nouveau cafe experience, go to Las Violetas in Balvanera instead (see previous post).

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 once managed to sprint across the whole width in one go. If you go more slowly though you can take in the fountains and the Monumento al Don Quijote.

At 1152 Avenida de Mayo is the architecturally unimpressive Hotel Castelar.

However it was once one of the most important hotels in the city, and 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 round window tops display Middle Eastern influences.

The window tops are decorated with a ceramic glaze known as faience .

At 1333 Avenida de Mayo is one of my favourite buildings on this walking tour, the Art Deco Federal Police HQ.

I adore the 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, once the highest building in South America.

Its designer Mario Palanti was an Italian freemason who intended it to be an architectural celebration of Dante’s Divine Comedy (the poet was also a mason).

On my walk in 2011, I snuck in for a look at the lobby which is meant to symbolise Hell and immediately fell in love with the light-bearing dragons. Harder to see were the condors and the coiled snakes in the corners.

I came back in 2014 with my friend Nicky to do the guided tour, now one of my top tips for great experiences to be had in Buenos Aires. You can join an English speaking tour (at 5, 6 and 7pm most evenings, more times at the weekend) by reserving first (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.

We took the old lift up to the middle floors which represent Purgatory.

The walls up here 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.

Actually sitting in the lighthouse with your backs to the glass windows can be quite vertigo inducing! Video here. Originally the parabolic mirror sent a beam of light across the Rio de la Plata to Palacio Silva, a sister building in Montevideo (see my Montevideo Centro post).

From the upper levels you can get stunning views over the city and Plaza Congreso.

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 so I hope to see inside one day.

For more architecture walks please see the previous post on Balvanera and also my Calle Florida post. See this post for somewhere to eat near Palacio Barolo.

Even more architecture next!

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