The Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires is famous from many movies, especially the Casa Rosada where Evita used to wave at the crowds. The entire district is dominated by European architecture from a by-gone era which many here yearn to bring back. Given that Argentina is one of the powerhouses of South America yet it is one of its most corrupt, they may have to wait some more!
This is part 2 in a series about Buenos Aires. Read Part One Here
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The Congress and the Casa Rosada
The Casa Rosada dominates Plaza de Mayo. It was here that Madonna sang her famous “Don’t cry for me Argentina” on the balcony. Demonstrators still gather here every day to remember those that fell during the Falklands conflict.Of course, there are also many who come to remember Evita and the heyday of Argentina. The Casa Rosada has its own museum of pictures and items of presidents from 1957.
The Avenida de Mayo connects Plaza de Mayo with Plaza del Congreso. Here you will find some of the most important government buildings in the city. One of them is the Congress, the headquarters of the executive. The Congress and the Casa Rosada are at the opposite ends of the Avenida de Mayo.
The avenue is just under a mile long, opened to the public in 1894. It received protected status and became a world heritage site in 1997. Underneath the road runs Buenos Aires’ and South America’s oldest subway, Line A, operating since 1913.
As a Hungarian I felt like I was back in Budapest. Not only because the architecture was very similar to most of the buildings back home. The streets were also lined by the same type of trees as in Budapest and many of the architects were Hungarian themselves.
The Famouse Cafe Tortoni
By this time I moved from San Telmo to be nearer the city centre. I lived just two streets from Avenida de Mayo, and I spent many afternoons walking around here. I did not want to leave Argentina without trying the famous Argentine beef burgers so I headed to the Cafe Tortoni, the oldest cafe in Buenos Aires. Unfortunately, the burger was awfully dry and almost inedible so I had to send it back! I imagine it comes with old age…
They brought the same bread and salad back with a different burger that was probably recently defrosted, all soggy and still disgusting. I left a little upset – the service was horrible, not to mention the burger and the drink. Another reason not to listen to guide books recommending a visit to an expensive place.
A walk along Avenida de Mayo
After lunch I carried on walking towards the Plaza del Congreso. I walked by some of the most impressing buildings in the city. Without even attempting a full list they were the Hotel Paris, the Hotel Chile, El Cabildo and the Palacio Barolo. The Palacio Barolo used to be the tallest building in Buenos Aires until the construction of the Kavanagh Tower a few blocks away.
The Plaza del Congreso is a place where many homeless people sleep under the trees in little sheds made of cardboard. Some of them also sleep on mattresses by the pavement. They are very peaceful and during the night they collect the trash that they later sell at recycling points. This is how they scrape a living to survive every day. There are also ice cream stalls and candy stands and it all seems like a fairground 24 hours a day, seven days a week – if you can ignore the homeless.
As I got closer to the Congress it became clear that Argentina had seen better times. No wonder that at one point they called it the United States of South America. The Congress building is simply magnificent – I stood there looking at it for at least 15 minutes, taking photos from different angles never to forget it. The building is made of granite carved with perfect precision, crowned by an 80 meter green cupola.
Unfortunately the police built an ugly fence around it because of the riots at the time of the financial crash – and never removed it! I spent many days walking past the Congress because my research took me to the Congress Library and also the National Archives. But more about that later.