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History looms large over Buenos Aires ’ signature central area. The Plaza de Mayo is the center of much of Argentina ’s turbulent history. Here took place key events from independence to several invasions by the British, to the social turmoil of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in which the Peron’s featured so prominently, all the way through to today where you can see lots of signs concerning the Islas Malvinas, amongst other domestic issues.
Reasons for this are largely because of the rather inoffensive pink stone palace that fronts the plaza. Known descriptively as the ‘Casa Rosada’ or ‘Pink House’, it is the seat of the executive branch of the Republic of Argentina . From this window, first lady Eva Peron addressed the crowds; from here every incoming president takes his or her oath and does work (but does not live, like the USA ’s White House). On the weekends, it is free to take a tour, and it proves to be a very enjoyable walk through Argentina as it would like to be seen. Enjoy the sumptuous rooms and see the presidential office, inauguration hall and press room. The guide (in English) will point out all the relevant details.
Across from the Pink House, see the Cabildo, the old townhall and key building in the arched colonial construction. This museum is a quick and interesting walk through Argentine independence, the colonial period, as well as the early British invasions during the Napoleanic era. Next door is the Cathedral, which houses the remains of General San Martin, one of the fighters for independence. His tomb is honored by a guard.
Stretching behind this core is the Avenida de Mayo. Walking along this peaceful central street is a very enjoyable experience. Make sure to stop by the Café Tortoni, the one time haunt of many Buenos Aires intellectuals and artists, including the estimable Jorge Luis Borges. There are numerous other shops, cafes and restaurants all the way to the towering, vaguely Montezuma-esque form of the Congreso—the home of the legislative branch.
Following this avenue, one crosses several avenues worthy of diversion. The first is the Calle Florida, a great shopping district replete with offers to Tango shows and high end local articles. Soon one gets to the widest street in the world, the 9 de Julio, an open boulevard that suddenly shows the sky, and an impressive array of advertising. On the left, in the middle, is the Buenos Aires landmark, the Obelisk. Built to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the city, it presents a challenge and an opportunity for a good photograph.
Following 9 de Julio to the other side of the Obelisk, one can see opposite the Teatro Colon, the premiere opera house of Latin America and at one time the entire Southern Hemisphere. This classic building, designed in an Italian and later French (after the architect died) fashion, is deliberately meant to conjure up thoughts of Europe . Inside, its gilt and sumptuous Old World interior adds to what is considered a superior acoustic to make it a worthy visit for both opera buffs and the newly initiated.
A tour in Buenos Aires begins and probably ends in this important, monumental area. It is bustling and a little frantic, as any great city’s center should be, but definitely enjoyable. Certainly there is much more to do and see in this area besides what is mentioned above, but every tour in Buenos Aires has its time limits, and these highlights count as some of the ‘unmissable’ ones.