Avenida de Mayo is one of the most iconic avenues in Buenos Aires, connecting the house of government (or casa rosada) and the house of congress. The first avenue ever created in South America, and modeled after the great boulevards of Paris, today it boasts a cacophony of different architectural styles. Mainly influenced by Italian and Spanish immigrants Avenida de Mayo is often compared to the Gran Vía in Madrid.
The epicenter of many political and historical Argentinian landmarks, Avenida de Mayo has always been a part of Argentine culture, from it’s theaters to the many protests and marches to congress, this avenue is often featured in history books and news broadcasts alike.
We’ll begin this tour in Plaza de Mayo and walk all the way to Congress, stopping to admire some of the beautiful buildings adorning the avenue.
1) Plaza de Mayo: Casa Rosada, Cabildo, & Piramide de Mayo
Plaza de Mayo takes its name from the revolution of the 25th of May 1810, the beginning of Argentina’s fight for independence from Spain, which took place right in this square.
La Casa Rosada (Balcarce 50, C1064, CABA)
La Casa Rosada, or pink house, is the seat of the Argentine national government and houses the president’s office. The president himself resides at the Quinta Presidencial in the neighborhood of Olivos, however Roque Sáenz Peña did live here during his presidency, between 1910 and 1914, making him the only president to use it as his official residency.
The reason for the color is unknown and a source of many theories, one such one is that the then president Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, in an attempt to appease political tensions, ordered it to be painted pink by combining the colors of feuding parties, the federal party (red) and the unitarian party (white).
El Cabildo (Bolívar 65, C1066, CABA)
El Cabildo de Buenos Aires was Spain’s colonial administration headquarters. Originally constructed in 1580, the cabildo was demolished due to its poor state in 1725 and rebuilt over the second half of the 18th century. Far from being what we see today, the building continued to suffer many changes: in 1894 part of it was demolished to allow for the Avenida de Mayo, and in 1931 yet more of the cabildo was taken down to allow for the Avenida Julio A. Roca. Nowadays the cabildo functions as the National Museum of the Cabildo and the May Revolution.
La Piramide de Mayo
This 19 meters high pyramid was constructed in 1811 to celebrate the first anniversary of the may revolution. Four of its original sculptures have been relocated (representing navigation, mechanics, astronomy and geography respectively), however one is still standing at it’s top: a sculpture by Joseph Dubourdieu representing freedom.
This monument is possibly best known for the part it played in Argentina’s human rights history. Starting in 1977, a group of mothers whose sons and daughters had beenabducted by the military dictatorship Proceso de Reorganización Nacional, began marching, asking for their children to be brought back to them. The group, named Madres de Plaza de Mayo wore white handkerchiefs, drawings of them can be seen painted at the bottom of the pyramid today to commemorate their bravery.
2) Casa de la Cultura/ La Prensa: (Av. De Mayo 575, C1084, CABA)
Constructed at the end of the XIX century by Carlos Agote and Alberto De Gainza, the Casa de la Cultura was originally meant to function as the headquarters of the La Prensa newspaper, one of the most circulated in Argentina at the time. A rather conservative paper it has opposed populist regimes like Peronism and shown support for military coups.
The influence of French architecture being obvious to the eye, both Agote and De Gainza completed their studies in Paris, it’s journalistic past can be spotted when looking up: a statute by Maurice Bouval of Pallas Athenea stands tall holding a piece of paper and an electric lamp representing Prometheus fire, a clear symbol of freedom of speech.
3) Palacio Vera: (Av. De Mayo 769, C1084, CABA)
A building that stands out for it’s art nouveau style, the Palacio Vera was created by Arturo Prins and Oscar Ranzenhofer and inaugurated in 1910 by Isabella, Princess of Asturias as part of the celebrations of Argentina’s centennial and the revolución the mayo or revolt of may.
Nowadays it’s probably most notorious for being the home to The Tunnel library, a place that specializes in first editions and old books. A favorite for collectors and avid readers alike.
4) Café Tortoni: (Av. De Mayo 825, C1084, CABA)
Café Tortoni opened it’s doors in 1858 moving to its current location in 1880. One of the many cafes in Avenida de Mayo, this one is particularly famous for it’s clients. From politicians like Lisandro de la Torre and Marcelo T. De Alvear to iconic popular idols like Carlos Gardel and Juan Manuel Fangio, Café Tortoni boasts an impressive list of illustrious guests. Inside it’s doors the Agrupación Gente de Artes y Letras was founded, an artistic group created by Benito Quinquela Martín (one of Argentina’s most famous painters), writers of the ilk of Jorge Luis Borges and Alfonsina Storni gathered inside this historic cafe. Other famous custumers to boast of? Albert Einstein and Federico García Lorca to name a few!
The Agrupación Gente de Artes y Letras ended in 1943, however this does not mean Café Tortoni forgot it’s creative roots: nowadays they still offer cultural events, mainly of jazz and tango.
5) Intersection with Avenida 9 de Julio:
The avenue “9 de Julio”, takes its name from Argentina’s independence day and is one of the widest in the world. In this crossroads a statue can be seen, created by Aurelio Teno, of don Quijote de la Mancha, a present from Spain to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Buenos Aires. Gifted in 1980, it’s white pedestal is meant to represent the landscape of La Mancha.