THE KAVANAGH BUILDING
A Buenos Aires newspaper, La Nacion, asked its readers to name their favourite city building. The most votes – 30 per cent – went to the Kavanagh building. At the same time, La Nacion asked “which for you is the ugliest building?” You guessed it, the Kavanagh took that title with 29 per cent. This art deco triumph overlooking San Martin Park was built in the 1930s by Corina Kavanagh, a wealthy landowner of Irish descent. Her apartment and terrace gardens took up the entire 14th floor. At the time of writing, that apartment was owned by a French polo player who would sell for around $US4 million. It was also available for short-term rental from $US1375 a night. See rentba.com
A military dictator takes a last roll of the dice; a wily prime minister seizes the chance to reassert her empire … war is invariably futile, but there was no hope for the Argentinians in the 1982 Falklands War or, as they know it, the War for Malvinas. The Monument to the Fallen is in San Martin Park and within it, a series of black marble plates carry the names of the 649 Argentinians who gave their lives in the war. Argentina still claims the islands for their proximity, but even they will concede the local population is against them. A UN-backed referendum was held in 2013 to see if the Falklanders wanted to retain their status as a British overseas territory; 1513 voted yes and three voted no.
THE OPERA HOUSE
To shed their past, during the “Golden Age” of Buenos Aires, 1880-1920, the Argentinians destroyed many colonial buildings and recreated the city in a European light, hence this stunning opera house, which opened in 1908. Teatro Colon is one of the world’s best for its design, and, most importantly, its acoustics. It is a permanent ballet, choir and orchestra base and has hosted the great names of the century past – singers such as Maria Callas, Placido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti and dancers such as Vaslav Nijinski, Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev. If you aren’t there for a show, there are guided tours every 15 minutes. See teatrocolon.org
SAN MARTIN PALACE
This building is now the ceremonial headquarters of Argentina’s Ministry for International Affairs, but it was once the home of the Anchorena family. It is said here that if you get an invitation to dinner from somebody with the surname Anchorena, you say “yes”; it may be the opportunity of a lifetime. The matriarch, Mercedes Castellanos de Anchorena had three sons so she made a single building with three entrances, one for herself and her single son and two others for her married sons: one mansion with three residences. In the 1930s, amid economic decline, many of these grand buildings were sold, some demolished and some bought to be embassies and the like.
LA RECOLETA CEMETERY
This once was very much an out-of-town Buenos Aires district; the land belonging to a monastery. The monks left and It became the city’s first public cemetery in 1822, a time when most people lived in the city’s south. In 1871, a yellow fever epidemic wiped out 8 per cent of the city’s population so people with money moved north to areas like Recoleta for better hygiene and more open space. So it was that they started to build around this fascinating cemetery, now the resting place of Argentinian presidents, generals, writers and, of course, the most famous of first ladies, Eva Peron. The cemetery is open from 8am to 6pm daily, with regular tours available. See turismo.buenosaires.gob.ar
JUANA AZURDUY STATUE
Amid local discontent and political intent, in 2015 a statue of Italian explorer Christopher Columbus near the Presidential Palace was replaced by one of the Bolivian freedom fighter Juana Azurduy. In a history revised, Columbus was seen more as an opportunistic enslaver than heroic discoverer of a new world. Azurduy, on the other hand, was a 19th century freedom fighter, so committed she fought while pregnant, gave birth and returned to the battle. She once commanded an army of 6000 men, fighting the Spanish for the independence of the Americas. The struggle isn’t over; the Italian heritage runs deep in Buenos Aires and Columbus may yet make a return.
*Jim Darby visited these sights as part of a Free Walks Buenos Aires tour (for which he paid; guests choose their price, see buenosairesfreewalks.com). He travelled to Argentina as a guest of LATAM (latam.com) and the South America Travel Centre (southamericatravelcentre.com.au).