One Hour In Argentina: Explore the History of Two Old Neighborhoods in Buenos Aires


Article Highlights

Construction of the the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary began in 1751. The church is home to the remains of Manuel Belgrano, an Argentine national hero from the country’s war for independence. Lucila Pellettieri, GPJ Argentina

A walk through Monserrat and San Telmo showcases the historic sites and mouthwatering tastes of Buenos Aires. The area is home to the city’s oldest church and bookstore as well as a variety of local food, everything from choripán to dolce de leche.

WHAT: Explore South American history in San Telmo and Monserrat, two of Buenos Aires’ oldest neighborhoods.

WHERE: Start your walk in Plaza de Mayo, the heart of the Monserrat neighborhood.

The tourists go crazy for the dulce de leche. Many try it for the first time, (then) come back when they are about to return to their countries in order to buy more.

WHY: The San Telmo and Monserrat neighborhoods showcase Argentina’s history. Within Monserrat, tourists will find some of the city’s historic churches and buildings. Leading into San Telmo, visitors are welcomed to a market from 1897, an artisanal fair, regional food stands, grills and antiques markets. While the sidewalks fill with artisans, musicians and food, a bird’s-eye view provides striking visuals of the neighborhood’s domes and colonial buildings.

The city’s oldest church, St. Ignatius of Loyola Church, stands two blocks southwest of Plaza de Mayo in Monserrat. The church was built between 1686 and 1722 and founded by the Jesuits, a religious order of the Roman Catholic Church.

The city’s oldest bookstore, known as Librería de Ávila, is just accoss the street from the church. A store selling numerous items, including books, opened at the site in 1785.

From there, visitors can walk one block east along Adolfo Alsina toward Defensa, where parts of the street are reserved for pedestrian traffic from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sundays for various fairs. The area boasts the Museum of the City, which now includes exhibits on home technologies from 1900 to 1930, and on the life of Carlos Gardel, a Buenos Aires singer and prominent figure in the history of tango music.

expand slideshow

St. Ignatius of Loyola Church is on Bolívar and Adolfo Alsina, a block from Defensa street. It is the oldest church in the city of Buenos Aires and was built by the Jesuits between 1686 and 1722.

Lucila Pellettieri, GPJ Argentina

El Rey del Chori (the King of Chori) and other vendors can be found on Defensa selling grilled meat and choripán, a chorizo sandwich, two typical Argentine foods. Many customers are tourists who want to try Argentine meat.

Lucila Pellettieri, GPJ Argentina

The eco-friendly fair is another option to check out near the Cabildo and Plaza de Mayo. Located on Avenida Presidente Julio Argentino Roca, an avenue that runs diagonally south from the plaza, the fair offers handcrafted items, clothes and other environmentally friendly wares.

Lucila Pellettieri, GPJ Argentina

Gustavo Ferrari, left, a traditional painter known as a fileteador, finishes a custom-made piece for a pair of tourists. “The good thing about fileteado is that the letters dry quickly. So the tourists can pick one of the frames, tell me what text they want me to paint, keep wandering around and in an hour take the finished painting with them,” he says.

Lucila Pellettieri, GPJ Argentina

The Regiment of Patricians band, part of the Argentine army, performs in front of the Cabildo of Buenos Aires, the colonial administration headquarters.

Lucila Pellettieri, GPJ Argentina

Visitors are viewed from the Cabildo, strolling through Plaza de Mayo and the Casa Rosada, the executive mansion and office of the country’s president. The historic building is open to the general public on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursdays from 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.; and Saturdays, Sundays and holidays from 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Lucila Pellettieri, GPJ Argentina

Tourists dance to the beat of a swing band at the Afro-Cultural Movement, a community center at 535 Defensa. Bands play there at pay-what-you-can rates, and food and drinks are available.

Lucila Pellettieri, GPJ Argentina

El Caburé plays in the San Lorenzo alleyway, a one-block street that opens up to 750 Defensa. There is live music there every Sunday, says Nicolás Acosta, right, El Caburé’s bassist. The narrowest house in Buenos Aires, at 2.5 meters (8 feet) wide, is on the block.

Lucila Pellettieri, GPJ Argentina

Beyond a door within the museum is the Asociación de Fileteadores, a group of painters of a traditional, decorative art form that incorporates the drawing and painting of flowers and curvy lines, typography and contrasting colors. The art form is often used for signs and to decorate buildings. There is a café, and artwork on display.

Two blocks south of the museum is the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary, which has replicas of cannonballs embedded in one of its towers. They serve as a reminder of a battle during a British invasion in the early 1800s when the area was the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata, a Spanish colony that included the area that is now Argentina.

South of the basilica is the San Telmo Market, where people buy lunch, antiques and other goods.

The San Telmo neighbohrood is known for its many food carts and restaurants, some of which serve dulce de leche, a creamy and thick caramel sauce made with milk. There are also empanadas, which are pastry turnovers filled with meat, cheese and vegetables, and carne asada, thinly sliced marinated beef.

DETAILS: The best day to visit Defensa to see the market is Sunday, when the street is open only to pedestrians and is full of stalls. Tickets to the city museum are 5 pesos (53 cents), but admission is free on Mondays and Wednesdays. The churches and the San Telmo Market can be visited free of charge.