When Argentina’s wealthy and powerful rest for eternity, they do it in style. Recoleta cemetery is one of the world’s most extraordinary graveyards, with over 6,400 grandiose mausoleums resembling Gothic chapels, Greek temples, fairytale grottoes and elegant little houses. The exclusive cemetery is the last stop for the country’s most celebrated (and controversial) presidents, intellectuals, army generals and entertainers, and a popular attraction for visitors to Buenos Aires.
Though the cemetery most famously holds the remains of actress-turned-First Lady Eva Perón (also known as Evita), many of Recoleta cemetery’s less internationally known residents are buried in masterpiece mausoleums, many with dramatic and intriguing stories behind them. Here is a look at 10 tombs to visit in Recoleta Cemetery. (more…)
Ah ’tis the season for haunted houses, gingerbread houses and more. Every year, artists amaze us with their ingenuity as they recreate fabulous architecture out of fun materials, some at a small scale and others at a livable scale. Here’s a roundup of our favorites:
Victorian Houses of Lego by Mike Doyle
Victorian Lego House by Mike Doyle. Image via Mike Doyle on Flickr
Artist Mike Doyle made this Victorian House entitled “Lego: Victorian on a Mud Heap” out of 110,000 to 130,000 pieces of Legos in black, white, dark, light bluish gray, clear transparent and black transparent colors. No additional materials were used besides Legos and no Lego pieces were cut. It took him about 600 hours to build. His website shows the making of process. with closeups.
Here’s what the Untapped staff has been enjoying this week (along with the crisper October temperatures).
Ever wondered what would happen if you threw caution into the wind and actually drank water from the Gowanus canal? So has Dan Nosowitz of Popular Science. Despite its location in the now-blooming Gowanus neighborhood, the canal itself is still one of America’s most polluted waterways. According to Nosowitz’s exposé, if you take a drink (not recommended), anticipate a very high risk of developing dysentery, cancer, and arsenic poisoning. Read the full article here.
La Boca, a barrio on the edge of downtown Buenos Aires, is frequented by visitors (typically tourists) eager for a glimpse into the local culture. All year long, the neighborhood is a tour bus destination stop where guides introduce people to the brightly colored homes, local cuisine restaurants and the art of the tango. However, the ironic juxtaposition between eager tourists and the socioeconomic state–La Boca is one of the poorest and most dangerous neighborhoods in the entire city–should not be overlooked.
It should be mentioned upfront that while doing research for this article I strayed off the beaten path into an (unbeknownst to me) unsafe territory. While snapping pictures of parks and murals with a friend, we were stopped by the local police and escorted back to the main (read: touristy) section of La Boca. Recent child abductions, robberies and drug trafficking made the area dangerous for locals not to mention lone international dwellers.
For visitors of La Boca, the multi-colored homes are the main attraction. The use of bright visual materials comes from a history of immigration from Genova. Upon arrival, the new immigrants built homes out of what could be found near the docks and the fields in nearby factories. Because there was not enough of any one type of material, the houses were constructed with mixed mediums. Shortly after building process finished, a local artist painted the neighborhood with the colors that readily available.
Today, in the pockets of the neighborhood where tourists are less likely to frequent, there remain signs of poverty. The homeless sleep on benches with their dogs one street parallel from the main section of La Boca where tourists spend money on souvenirs. After conversations with locals who knew La Boca, the underprivileged lack faith in their government’s ability to aid them, a common sentiment shared by others in similar circumstances across the globe.
However, a brighter note can be found outside of the main section on the walls of the buildings that align the periphery of La Boca. Equally bright murals adorn abandoned buildings. Some murals feature whimsical clowns; others display depictions of the people proud to call La Boca home. Neighborhood organizations, such as Fundación PROA, tap into the creative scene hosting artists and organizing community support events. Additionally, PROA features many exhibitions by contemporary artists.
Soon, La Boca will undergo a transformation. Argentine architecture firm, PALO Arquiteca Urbana, will revamp the neighborhood’s spotty transportation infrastructure. The unreliable transportation is believed to be the main obstacle hindering the growth of the area. PALO surmises that a more viable infrastructure will bring more locals to the area, as opposed to tourists. Perhaps it’s a naive hope that improvements will bring an improved quality of life to La Boca without sacrificing its history.
Although famed for European-inspired architecture and parrillas brimming with succulent steaks, if you’re looking to fully capture Buenos Aires like a porteà±o, or local, it is crucial to abandon one’s plans and wander towards the nearest park. With their late night lifestyle-even the nià±os can be spotted out and about in the wee-morning hours-it’s no surprise that porteà±os employ many a daytime hour in the name of relaxing. So follow suit, pack up your yerba mate, find a park or plaza and exalt in springtime. Here’s our breakdown of the city’s greatest parks.
Jardin Botánico Carlos Thays
The shady and lush Botanical Garden is nothing short of an oasis. With historic French, Roman and Oriental-inspired gardens and bright, airy greenhouses that date back to 1898, this sanctuary provides the perfect place to spend a lazy afternoon. However, if cats aren’t your thing, be warned that you may see about as many felines as flowers. The majority of these furry creatures were disowned by prior owners and have no choice but to seek refuge here. Fortunately, an active volunteer committee works to find them homes and supplies them with food, vaccines and veterinary care in the interim.
One of the many cats in the Botanical Garden
Parque Natural y Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur
If you’re a more active type, take a long walk among the array of paths that loop around the 865 acres of the Buenos Aires Ecological Reserve. Watch the skyline through the lowland grass rotate around you as you head towards the Rà o de la Plata. Officially deemed a reserve in 1986, the river was host to a variety of bathers beginning in the early 1900s. These days, the coastline is littered with rocks and bricks and suits picnicking better than swimming but the breeze coming off the river and the abundant landscape is just as refreshing.
View of the Buenos Aires skyline through the grass.
Plaza de Mayo
This historically rich Montserrat plaza remains a must-see for any Buenos Aires visitor. The plaza’s outline dates as far back as 1580, and since then the elegant expanse has welcomed notable protests, celebrations, and speeches from dignitaries orating from the porches of Casa Rosada, the presidential palace that lies at the periphery of the square. The most famous is perhaps the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, who have been coming since 1977 with signs and photos of the desaparecidos, their children who disappeared at the hands of the Argentine military during the Dirty War. The president does not reside in the monumental pink edifice, but as a significant municipal structure it remains at home among the many government buildings situated about the plaza, including City Hall, the City Legislature, and Cabildo, the central site of the once Spanish government. At certain angles around the square, you can spot the Obelisco.
Casa Rosada, the presidential palace (photograph by Shane McGill).
This summer, I traveled south to Buenos Aires for the winter to escape the New York City heat. Top of the “to visit” list is a place that will remain an all time favorite travel destination: El Ateneo. El Ateneo Grand Splendid is the biggest bookstore in South America and is celebrating one hundred years of existence this year. Until 2000, the building was home to Buenos Aires’ entertainment and cultural productions as The Grand Splendid Theater. The physical transformation from a theater to a book store maintained the original structure and the building’s contribution to Argentine history.
Impresso Café Bar
The bookstore is impressive and immediately upon entering I understood why locals rave about El Ateneo Grand Splendid as “algo muy especial” (“something very special” ). Each space in the bookstore is carefully utilized: previous theatre boxes are cozy reading spaces, mezzaine kiosks are information booths and the main stage is the the Impresso Café Bar, a reasonably priced coffee shop. In January 2008, The Guardian published a ranking the top 10 bookstores around the world. El Ateneo Grand Splendid earned second place. The top of the coveted list includes the Boekhandel Selexyz Dominicanen in Maastricht, the Netherlands (first place), Livraria Lello in Porto, Portugal (third place), Secret Headquarters in Los Angeles, USA (fourth place) and the since closed Borders in Glasgow, Scotland (fifth place).
Saturday Afternoon Shoppers
Inaugurated in May 1919, the building was designed by architects Pero and Torres Armengol with 4 rows of stageboxes and seating for 500 people. Like much of the architecture in Buenos Aires, it was inspired by 19th century Parisian architecture, in this case probably the Palais Garnier Opera House. Since 1924, tango concerts were recorded in The Grand Splendid under the seal El Nacional Odeon. The stage also housed theater and ballet companies including Cuba’s Alicia Alonoso’s and the first non-silent movie in Buenos Aires The Divine Lady starring Corinne Griffith and Victor Varconi. The ILHSA group rented The Grand Splendid in February 2000 and the subsequent renovation maintained the original beauty of the facility. The one million visitors a year El Ateneo receives is a testament to the public’s appreciation of the bookstore being a cultural staple in the community.
If you are planning a trip to Buenos Aires, be sure to visit El Ateneo. It is the only place I know where you can enjoy a cup of coffee on a stage while looking out into the main attraction.