Recoleta, Buenos Aires
Recoleta is a downtown residential neighborhood in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It is an area of great historical and architectural interest, due to its Beaux-Arts architecture as well as the distinguished Recoleta Cemetery. It is also an important tourist destination in the city.
Location of Recoleta within Buenos Aires
|Autonomous city||Buenos Aires|
|Important sites||Recoleta cemetery,|
Recoleta Cultural Centre
|• Total||5.4 km2 (2.1 sq mi)|
|• Density||35,000/km2 (91,000/sq mi)|
|Time zone||UTC-3 (ART)|
The Recoleta neighborhood is composed of the area limited by Montevideo and Uruguay Streets, Córdoba Avenue, Mario Bravo and Coronel Díaz Streets, Las Heras Avenue, Tagle Street, the F.G.B.M railway, Jerónimo Salguero Street, and by the Río de La Plata or River Plate.
The name of the neighborhood comes from the Monastery of the Recollect Fathers, members of the Franciscan Order which was established in the area at the beginning of the 18th century. They founded a monastery and a church dedicated to Nuestra Señora del Pilar with a cemetery attached. The Recoleta pathway is nearly the exact geographic center of the neighborhood, and one of its highest points in the city, which, at the end of the 19th century attracted wealthy families from the south of the city who sought to escape from the deadly yellow fever outbreak which began in 1871. From that time on, the Recoleta has been one of the most stylish and expensive neighborhoods in Buenos Aires, home to private family mansions, foreign embassies, and luxury hotels, including the Alvear Palace Hotel.
The historical center of the neighborhood is the Church of Nuestra Señora del Pilar, construction of which was completed in 1732. For that reason, the neighborhood was occasionally called El Pilar. The church was originally situated at the edge of the banks that sloped down to the Río de la Plata and Manso Creek. The creek, also known as Tercero del Norte, currently flows through an underground pipe, and runs below present-day Pueyrredón Avenue. It formed a type of small delta, with channels along the current Austria and Tagle Streets, which flowed into the Río de la Plata.
When Buenos Aires suffered terrible cholera and yellow fever epidemics in the 1870s, the population of the city spread out to avoid the contagion. It was for that reason that, while the underprivileged classes settled in the south-southwest of the city, the most wealthy settled in the Recoleta area, where the height of the terrain reduced the presence of insects which transmitted the diseases.
These families (many of which were members of the ruling national elite, considered of "noble" ancestry (although there were no noblemen in the former Hispanic territories) for having descended from respected historical figures from the period of Argentine independence), built mansions and other notable buildings in several European architectural styles of the period (many of which were demolished towards the end of the 1950s and beginning of the 1960s and once again during the 2000s). Consequently, Buenos Aires has often been referred to as the "Paris of South America". Nowadays, what is left of these traditional buildings coexist with elegant modern constructions.
Together with some sections of the neighboring communities of Retiro and Palermo, Recoleta forms a part of the area known as Barrio Norte, Buenos Aires, a traditional residential zone for the city’s most affluent families, where a great portion of the cultural life of the city is concentrated.
The Recoleta neighborhood is distinguished by its great cultural spaces. In addition to historical monuments, it is home to the National Fine Arts Museum or Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, the National Library of Argentina, the Recoleta Cultural Center, and other exhibition venues.
The Recoleta Cemetery is one of the main tourist attractions in the neighborhood. It was designed by the French architect Prosper Catelin, at the request of President Bernardino Rivadavia, and was dedicated in 1822.
Museums and cultural centers
Next to the cemetery is the former General Juan José Viamonte Shelter, administered in the past by the Recollect Fathers. When it ceased functioning as a shelter for the indigent, it was acquired by the city and converted into the Centro Cultural Recoleta, one of the most important exhibition halls for the plastic arts in the city. 150 meters away, across Libertador Avenue, is the el Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (MNBA), which holds in its permanent collection works of art by Argentine artists such as Berni and Seguí, as well as works by European masters such as Titian, Goya, Rembrandt, Gauguin, and Manet. To the east, along Posadas Street, is the Palais de Glace, which was, at the beginning of the twentieth century, an ice skating rink. It has since been turned into a multimedia exhibition center. Behind Carlos Thays Park is located the Centro Municipal de Exposiciones, which houses a wide variety of exhibitions and cultural events.
Several of the oldest and most prestigious schools in the capital are in the Recoleta neighborhood. Among them are the Escuela Superior de Comercio Carlos Pellegrini, the Escuela Argentina Modelo, the Scuola Edmundo de Amicis, the Colegio Champagnat, the Colegio Mallinkdrodt, the Colegio San Agustín and Normal School 1, the oldest portion of which has been declared a National Monument.
Many university schools are also found in Recoleta: Derecho (University of Buenos Aires School of Law), Medicina (University of Buenos Aires School of Medicine), Odontología (University of Buenos Aires School of Dentistry), and the Farmacia y Bioquímica (University of Buenos Aires Schools of Pharmacy and Biochemistry). Additionally, the neogothic style building which formerly held the University of Buenos Aires’ School of Engineering can be found on Las Heras Avenue, although today it serves only as an auxiliary building for the School, characterized by the cold, humid air typical of gothic structures.
A construction in the brutalist style, located on Agüero Street between Libertador Avenue and Las Heras, is home to the new National Library of Argentina. The building was completed in 1992, after 20 years of construction work. It contains more than four million volumes, including twenty priceless editions, such as a rare copy of Dante’s Divine Comedy.
Recoleta and tango
Several cabarets in the neighborhood served as locales for tango music and dance. The Pabellón de las Rosas, on Libertador Avenue and Tagle Street, like the Café de Hansen in the Palermo neighborhood, maintained a Belle Époque atmosphere, where the so-called "atorrantes" (vagabonds) spent their evenings. At this, and at other cabarets such as the Armenonville, a "peringundín" (dance hall) where Carlos Gardel was known to appear, fights—occasionally bloody—would break out between "malevos" (ruffians), "compadritos" (tough-guys) and "jailaifes" ("high-lifes” or high society boys). In the 1910s, when the Palais de Glace no longer served as an ice skating rink, it became a dance venue, and it is there where the tango finally became accepted by the upper classes of Buenos Aires, especially since it had already become a fad in Paris.
Many tango lyrics reflect life in the Recoleta neighborhood. One song, by Horacio Ferrer, set to music by Ástor Piazzolla, is the "Balada para un loco" ("Ballad for a Crazy Man"), which cites two of the neighborhood streets, Callao and Arenales: "Ya sé que estoy piantao, piantao, piantao... / No ves que va la Luna rodando por Callao/que un corso de astronautas y niños, con un vals,/ me baila alrededor... ¡Bailá! ¡Vení! ¡Volá!"
The neighborhood has numerous statues and sculptures in its parks and plazas. It has been exaggerated that the Recoleta neighborhood has more statues than any neighborhood in the world. Among the statues that stand out are El último centauro ("The Last Centaur"), El Arquero ("The Archer") and the equestrian statue dedicated to Carlos María de Alvear. Additionally, there are works by the sculptor Antoine Bourdelle, the Floralis Genérica by Eduardo Catalano, and the Torso Masculino Desnudo ("Nude Male Torso") by Fernando Botero. The Recoleta Cemetery also possesses many exquisite works of art, obscured by their funerary location: the sculpture known as the Cristo Muerto by Giulio Monteverde, for example. Furthermore, the neighboring Basilica of Nuestra Señora del Pilar holds examples of Spanish Colonial art. Particularly noteworthy is a sculpture which represents one of the Apostles by the Spanish sculptor, Alonso Cano.
From the end of the nineteenth-century to the start of the 1920s, the Recoleta neighborhood has witnessed the construction of a great number of “châteaux” (often imitating those of the Loire valley in France), as well as Parisian style petits hôtels, almost always designed by architects of French origin. The major portion of the building materials (boiseries, slate roof tiles, marble for staircases, bronze and iron work, chandeliers with lead crystal prisms, glass lamp shades, ornate gilded mirrors, and beveled lead crystal window panes, mosaics, etc.) were brought from Europe. But just as it occurred in other neighborhoods of Buenos Aires, these grand buildings, in large part, have been demolished since the 1960s due to the realities of the real estate market: on the land that held an extraordinary private mansion, several ordinary modern buildings could be erected. Currently several neighborhood groups which organize marches, meetings, and other events are working to halt further destruction of existing landmarks.
In spite of the demolitions, Recoleta still displays a rich architectural legacy. Outstanding examples are on Alvear Avenue, where such buildings as the Palacio Duhau (former property of the Duhau family), the Nunciature of the Vatican (the Fernández Anchorena Palace), the French Embassy (former Ortiz Basualdo Palace), the Brazilian Embassy (former Pereda Palace), the Jockey Club, and the luxurious Alvear Palace Hotel. All over Recoleta, petits hôtels which contrast with larger and more modern apartment buildings, still grace the neighborhood.
Some of the work of the noteworthy architect, Clorindo Testa, is in Recoleta. Of importance is the National Library, the Buenos Aires Design center, and the building of the new Colegio de Escribanos de Buenos Aires (School of Legal Notaries of Buenos Aires) on Las Heras Avenue.
Additionally, on the side streets of the neighborhood, there is a large number of rental properties of more practical design, whose compact structure and austere appearance contrast with the predominantly neoclassic style of much of Recoleta.
One particular area of Recoleta, bounded by Agüero, Córdoba, Mario Bravo, Soler, Sánchez de Bustamante, and Mansilla streets, is not normally considered to be a part of the Recoleta neighborhood, but rather belonging to the Palermo area. This may be due to fact that it displays a more recent design style than the average area of Recoleta, and of a visibly inferior quality of construction. For that reason, it is one of the more economical areas of the neighborhood, although some residents may not realize that they do in fact reside in Recoleta.
Unlike other areas of Recoleta, the only historic structure in this particular portion of the neighborhood is the Ricardo Gutiérrez Children’s Hospital. The main wing of this hospital retains the features that it had a century ago, and it is located on the corner of Paraguay and Gallo Streets.
Although a large portion of Recoleta has been developed, it still possesses many green spaces. Along Libertador and Figueroa Alcorta Avenues, the República Federativa do Brasil Park is located facing the University of Buenos Aires School of Law, Plaza Rubén Darío, Plaza República Oriental del Uruguay, Plaza República Chile, Plaza Francia, Plaza Intendente Alvear, Plaza Dante Alighieri and Plazoleta Raúl Soldi. Plaza Vicente López y Planes, recently enhanced, is found at the intersection of Montevideo and Paraná Streets.
Recoleta was the site of an amusement park, Italpark, from 1960 until its closure in 1990. The current Parque Thays stands on the land that it once occupied. Along Córdoba Avenue, the western edge of the neighborhood, are two parks: Plaza Bernardo Houssay, filled with university students, artisans, and resellers of academic textbooks, and Plaza Monseñor De Andrea, at the intersection of Córdoba and Jean Jaurés Street, is a neighborhood area distinctive for its more everyday feel, where petits-hotels and grand buildings leave space for small homes, grocery stores and shops.
Of particular note, in the Plaza Francia facing the cemetery is an enormous rubber tree; its huge tentacle-like lower branches cast shade over La Biela's popular terrace. Known as the Gran Gomero, it was planted in 1791 by Martín José Altolaguirre, the owner of these lands back in that time, and is 50 meters wide.
Facing the cemetery and the cultural center, is the Plaza Intendente Alvear, mistakenly, but commonly known as Plaza Francia. The plaza became famous in the 1960s for its street fair, popularly called the “feria hippie.” Over time, in addition to genuine artisans and craftspeople, the fair has attracted street vendors and merchants of a wide variety of merchandise.
At present, the Government of the City of Buenos Aires has reorganized the fair, encouraging the participation of those artisans whose work is original and authentic, and discouraging those whose merchandise is of low quality or those who simply sell mass-produced items. The artisans, led by the organization, Interferias, must pass an evaluation process and be registered. Visitors to the fair may find all kinds of handicraft items, many of them of high quality: leather goods, book restoration, sandals and espadrilles, carved mates, ethnic jewelry, incense, essential oils, spices, satchels, candles, indigenous musical instruments, photography, and much more.
Famous residents of Recoleta
Of the important residents of the Recoleta neighborhood, the writers Adolfo Bioy Casares and Silvina Ocampo stand out. Perhaps even better known is Jorge Luis Borges, who lived on Quintana Avenue and was, for many years, the Director of the Biblioteca Nacional. He is, arguably, the single most influential and world-renowned Argentine writer. José Ortega y Gasset also lived for a time on Quintana Avenue. In the 1930s, Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, later known to the world as Pope Pius XII, lived in a sumptuous residence on Alvear Avenue. The American actor Guy Williams lived and died in the neighborhood.
In the past, the Argentine president’s residence was located at the intersection of Agüero Street and Libertador Avenue. After the overthrow of President Juan Perón in 1955, the luxurious residence was demolished, and today, where it stood, now stands the National Library, work of the Italo-Argentine Clorindo Testa.
Businesses and restaurants
The neighborhood is well known for its shopping opportunities. The most important French and Italian designers have shops in Recoleta.
Recoleta is also a distinctive gastronomic area of the city. Its restaurants, many having earned international awards, are located along Ortiz Street, closed to motor traffic. Here, the renowned chef Gato Dumas has had several restaurants. A classic in the neighborhood, and the preferred locale of the Buenos Aires cultural elite, is the literary café, Clásica y Moderna, located on Callao Avenue at Paraguay Street.
- "Presentaron los emblemas de 48 barrios porteños". Ámbito.com (in Spanish). 29 August 2011. Retrieved 8 October 2017.
- "Cuáles son los barrios más baratos para alquilar en la ciudad de Buenos Aires". El Cronista (in Spanish). 19 January 2017. Retrieved 8 October 2017.
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