Monserrat Catedral al Sur is home to several of Buenos Aires’s important historical sights. The barrio’s axis is the Avenida de Mayo, which links the Casa Rosada presidential palace (1873-1898) with the Congreso Nacional (National Congress, 1908). The perpendicular Avenida 9 de Julio splits Monserrat in half.
Plaza de Mayo
The Plaza de Mayo derives its name from the date of the Revolution of 1810, but it owes its fame to the massive demonstrations that have taken place here in support and protest of the Peróns, the Falklands/Malvinas war, and other political causes.
At its northwest corner, the imposing Catedral Metropolitana (1827) holds the remains of national icon José de San Martín. At the southwest corner, only part of the colonial Cabildo de Buenos Aires (1725-1765) survived construction of the Avenida de Mayo. If the economy were as solid as the northeast corner’s neoclassical Banco de la Nación (1939), Argentina would be a global powerhouse.
First among the Avenida de Mayo’s surviving landmarks, the legendary Café Tortoni (Av. de Mayo 825, tel. 011/4342-4328) dates from 1858. One of Buenos Aires’s most fiercely if quietly traditional places, the Tortoni has made no concessions to the 21st century and only a few to the 20th: upholstered chairs and marble tables stand among sturdy columns beneath a ceiling punctuated by stained-glass vitreaux; the wallpaper looks original between the dark-stained wooden trim; and the walls are decorated with pictures, portraits, and filete, the traditional calligraphy of Porteño sign-painters.
Among the patrons acknowledged on the walls are tango singer Carlos Gardel, La Boca painter Benito Quinquela Martín, dramatists Luigi Pirandello and Federico García Lorca, and pianist Arthur Rubinstein; more recently, the Tortoni has hosted King Juan Carlos I of Spain and Hillary Rodham Clinton.
At the west end of Avenida de Mayo, the Plaza del Congreso (officially, Plaza de los Dos Congresos, 1904)–a frequent site for political demonstrations–faces the Congreso Nacional (1908), Argentina’s notoriously dysfunctional legislature.
South of Plaza de Mayo, Monserrat’s major colonial landmark is the Manzana de las Luces, comprising several ecclesiastical and educational institutions filling an entire block bounded by Alsina, Bolívar, Moreno, and Perú.
At Alsina and Defensa, the Farmacia de la Estrella (1900) is a classic apothecary distinguished by magnificent woodwork and health-oriented ceiling murals. Its exterior windows exhibit materials from the upstairs Museo de la Ciudad (Defensa 219, tel. 011/4331-9855, 11am-7pm Mon.-Fri., 10am-8pm Sat.-Sun., US$0.35, free Mon. and Wed.), specializing in elements of everyday Porteño life.
A block south, the Museo Etnográfico Juan B. Ambrosetti (Moreno 350, tel. 011/4345-8196, 1pm-7pm Tues.-Fri., 3pm-7pm Sat.-Sun., US$0.50) has superb archaeological, ethnographic, and ethnohistorical displays on the Tierra del Fuego archipelago. There are guided tours Saturday-Sunday at 4pm.
From the roof of the Casa de la Defensa (Defensa 372), Porteños poured boiling oil on British invaders in 1806-1807. Half a block south, at Avenida Belgrano, the 18th-century Iglesia y Convento de Santo Domingo shares grounds with the Instituto Nacional Belgraniano, a patriotic institute that contains the tomb of Argentine flag designer General Manuel Belgrano.
Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Patagonia.