What to See in Palermo, Buenos Aires’s Largest Barrio

Neat paths surrounded a landscaped patch of grass framed by trees.

Palermo’s botanical garden. Photo © Pedro Angelini, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Map of Palermo, Argentina

Palermo

Buenos Aires’s largest barrio, Palermo enjoys the city’s widest open spaces—thanks to 19th-century dictator Juan Manuel de Rosas, whose private estate stretched from Recoleta to Belgrano, between present-day Avenida del Libertador and the Río de la Plata. After his defeat at the battle of Caseros in 1852, Rosas went into exile in Great Britain, and his properties became Parque Tres de Febrero.

Once part of the capital’s unsavory arrabales (margins), its street corners populated by stylish but capricious malevos (bullies) immortalized in Borges’s short stories, Palermo hasn’t entirely superseded that reputation—some poorly lighted streets still make visitors uneasy. Yet it also has exclusive neighborhoods such as Barrio Parque, the embassy row also known as Palermo Chico, immediately north of Recoleta.

Across Avenida del Libertador, the Botánico is an upper-middle-class neighborhood that takes its name from the Jardín Botánico Carlos Thays (Avenida Santa Fe 3951, tel. 011/4831-4527, 8 a.m.–6 p.m. daily, free), an otherwise appealing botanical garden infested with feral cats. Opposite nearby Plaza Italia, the Jardín Zoológico (Avenida Las Heras s/n, tel. 011/4806-7412, 10 a.m.–6 p.m. Tues.–Sun.) is an ideal outing for visitors with children (free up to age 12). General admission costs US$3 per adult.

The real center of action, though, is across Avenida Santa Fe at Palermo Viejo, where Plaza Serrano (also known as Plaza Cortázar) is a major locus of local nightlife. Palermo Viejo subdivides into Palermo Soho, a trendy term to describe the area south of Avenida Juan B. Justo, and the more northerly Palermo Hollywood, where many television and radio producers have located their facilities. Shaded by sycamores, many Palermo Viejo streets still contain casas chorizo (sausage houses) on deep, narrow lots. One of the most interesting private residences is the Casa Jorge García (Gorriti 5142), whose garage facade features Martiniano Arce’s filete caricatures of the García family.

Palermo’s most conspicuous new landmark is the controversial Centro Cultural Islámico Rey Fahd (Avenida Bullrich 55, tel. 011/4899-1144), built with Saudi money on land acquired from the Menem administration. It’s open for guided tours only Tuesday and Thursday noon–1 p.m. To the north, overlapping Belgrano, Las Cañitas is a gastronomic and nightlife zone challenging Palermo Viejo among porteño partygoers.

Parque Tres de Febrero

Argentine elites got their revenge on dictator José Manuel de Rosas with Parque Tres de Febrero. Not only does the equestrian Monumento a Urquiza (Avenida Sarmiento and Avenida Figueroa Alcorta) commemorate Rosas’s military nemesis, but President Domingo F. Sarmiento’s name graces one of the main avenues. Sarmiento, Rosas’s implacable foe, oversaw the transformation during his presidency (1868–1874); a Rodin statue of Sarmiento now stands at the site of the dictator’s bedroom (the Roman-style villa was dynamited).

In the early 20th century, noting Sunday’s spectacle of horse-drawn carriages and motorcars, British diplomat James Bryce remarked that “Nowhere in the world does one get a stronger impression of exuberant wealth and extravagance.” Today, though, it’s a more democratic destination, where the automobiles move slowly and picnickers, walkers, joggers, in-line skaters, and cyclists can enjoy its verdant serenity.

The park’s sights include the Jardín Japonés (Japanese Gardens); the Rosedal (Rose Garden, Avenida Iraola and Avenida Presidente Pedro Montt); the Museo de Artes Plásticas Eduardo Sívori (Avenida Infanta Isabel 555, tel. 011/4772-5628, noon–8 p.m. Tues.– Fri., 10 a.m.–8 p.m. weekends, US$0.30), a fine painting and sculpture museum; the Hipódromo Argentino (racetrack, Avenida del Libertador and Avenia Dorrego); and the Campo Argentino de Polo (polo grounds), directly across Avenida del Libertador.

Jardín Japonés

An oasis of calm in the city’s rush, Buenos Aires’s Japanese garden opened in 1967, when Crown Prince Akihito and Princess Michiko visited Argentina. Administratively part of the Jardín Botánico, the Jardín Japonés enjoys better maintenance, and because there’s chicken wire between the exterior hedges and the interior fence, it’s full of chirping birds rather than feral cats.

Like Japanese gardens elsewhere, it mimics nature in its large koi pond, waterfall, and “isle of the gods,” and also Japanese culture in features like its pier, lighthouse, and “bridge of fortune.” In addition, the garden contains a Monumento al Sudor del Inmigrante Japonés (Monument to the Effort of the Japanese Immigrant). Argentina has a small but well-established Japanese community in the capital and the suburb of Escobar.

The Jardín Japonés (Avenida Casares and Avenida Adolfo Berro, tel. 011/4801-4922, 10 a.m.–6 p.m. daily) charges US$1.50 for adults, US$0.25 for children (above age six) on weekdays; weekend and holiday rates are US$2 for adults, US$0.75 for children. There are guided weekend tours at 3 p.m.

Museo de Arte Popular José Hernández

It’s tempting to call this the “museum of irony”: Argentina’s most self-consciously gaucho-oriented institution sits in one of the country’s most urbane and affluent neighborhoods, also home to many foreign embassies. Named for the author of the gauchesco epic poem Martín Fierro, it specializes in rural Argentiniana.

Even more ironically, land-owning oligarch Félix Bunge built the derivative French- Italianate residence with marble staircases and other extravagant features. Originally named for the Carlos Daws family, who donated its contents, it became the Museo de Motivos Populares Argentinos (Museum of Argentine Popular Motifs) José Hernández until the 1976–1983 dictatorship deleted the potentially inflammatory populares (which in context means “people’s”) from the official name. Thus, perhaps, it could depict gentry like the Martínez de Hoz family as part of a bucolic open-range lifestyle.

That said, the museum has many worthwhile items, ranging from magnificent silverwork and vicuña textiles created by contemporary Argentine artisans to pre-Columbian pottery, indigenous crafts, and even a typical pulpería (rural store). Translations of Hernández’s famous poem, some in Asian and Eastern European languages, occupy a prominent site.

The Museo de Arte Popular José Hernández (Avenida del Libertador 2373, tel. 011/4803-2384, 1–7 p.m. Wed.–Fri., 10 a.m.–8 p.m. weekends and holidays) charges US$0.30 admission except Sunday, when it’s free. It’s normally closed in February.

Museo Nacional de Arte Decorativo

Matías Errázuriz Ortúzar and his widow Josefina de Alvear de Errázuriz lived less than 20 years in the ornate beaux arts building (1918) that now houses the national decorative art museum. Its inventory consists of 4,000 items from the family’s own collections, ranging from Roman sculptures to contemporary silverwork, but mostly Asian and European pieces from the 17th to 19th centuries. Many items are anonymous; the best-known are by Europeans like Manet and Rodin.

The Museo Nacional de Arte Decorativo (Avenida del Libertador 1902, tel. 011/4802- 6606, 2–7 p.m. Tues.– Sun., US$1.25, free Tues.) offers guided English-language tours Tuesday–Saturday at 2:30 p.m. The museum is closed the last week of December and first week of January.

MALBA

Buenos Aires’s most deluxe museum, the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires is a striking steel-and-glass structure dedicated to Latin American art rather than the Eurocentric contents of many—if not most—Argentine collections. Designed by Córdoba architects Gastón Atelman, Martín Fourcade, and Alfredo Tapia, it devotes one entire floor to the private collection of Argentine businessman Eduardo F. Constantini, the motivating force behind the museum’s creation; the 2nd floor offers special exhibitions.

The most prominent artists on display are the Mexicans Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, but there are also works by Antonio Berni, the Chilean Robert Matta, the Uruguayan Pedro Figari, and others. It also has a cinema and hosts other cultural events.

The Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (Avenida Figueroa Alcorta 3415, tel. 011/4808-6500, US$4, US$1.25 Wed.) is open noon–9 p.m. Wednesday, noon–8 p.m. Thursday–Monday and holidays.

Museo Eva Perón

At her most combative, to the shock and disgust of neighbors, Eva Perón chose the affluent Botánico for the Hogar de Tránsito No. 2, a shelter for single mothers from the provinces. Even more galling, her Fundación de Ayuda Social María Eva Duarte de Perón took over an imposing three-story mansion to house the transients.

Since Evita’s 1952 death, middle-class apartment blocks have mostly replaced the elegant single-family houses and distinctive apartment buildings that then housed the porteño elite (many of them moved to northern suburbs). Half a century later, on the July 26th anniversary of her death—supporting Tomás Eloy Martínez’s observation that Argentines are “cadaver cultists”—her great-niece María Carolina Rodríguez officially opened this professionally organized museum to “spread the life, work, and ideology of María Eva Duarte de Perón.”

What it lacks is a critical perspective to help, again in Rodríguez’s words, “understand who this woman was in the 1940s and 1950s, who made such a difference in the lives of Argentines”—a goal possibly inconsistent with her other stated aims. Rather than a balanced assessment, this is a chronological homage that sidesteps the issue of personality cults of both Evita and her charismatic husband.

The Museo Eva Perón (Lafinur 2988, tel. 011/4807-9433, 11 a.m.–7 p.m. Tues.–Sun., US$3) has a museum store with a selection of Evita souvenirs and a fine café-restaurant as well. Guided English-language tours, bookable in advance, cost US$5.


Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon Argentina.

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