Earthquake-prone La Rioja has few buildings of any real antiquity, but most of those are on or around Plaza 25 de Mayo.
On the south side of the Plaza, the Byzantine Iglesia Catedral (1899) holds the venerated image of the city’s patron San Nicolás de Bari. The provincial Casa de Gobierno (25 de Mayo 10) faces the west side of the plaza.
Franciscans were the first order to establish themselves in La Rioja, in the Convento de San Francisco (25 de Mayo 218) one block north of the plaza. An image of the Niño Alcalde, a Christ Child figure acknowledged as the city’s symbolic mayor, resides here.
One block east of the plaza, the Convento de Santo Domingo (Pelagio Luna and Lamadrid, open after 6 p.m.) is Argentina’s oldest convent, built by Diaguita labor from the encomienda of Juan Ramírez de Velasco. The carved algarrobo door frame bears the original date of 1623, though only the stone exterior church walls survived the earthquake of 1894.
Two blocks west of the plaza, in renovated quarters, the misleadingly named Museo Folklórico (Pelagio Luna 811, tel. 03822/42-8500, 8 a.m.–12:30 p.m. and 5–9 p.m. Tues.–Fri., 8 a.m.–12:30 p.m. Sat.–Sun., free) is more and better than its prosaic name suggests. Stressing local customs, beliefs, and artifacts, it places them in a historic household context rather than in glass-case isolation; it offers many of these same items for sale (appropriately enough, given their economic significance in everyday life). Among the items on display are ponchos, wood carvings, and silver and leather work. The museum occupies a handsome 19th-century house with a shady central patio that’s suitable for a breather.
Half a block west of Plaza 9 de Julio, the turreted Casa de Joaquín V. González (Rivadavia 952, tel. 03822/42-6863, 9 a.m.–noon and 5–8:30 p.m. Mon.–Fri.) was the Gothic-style residence of a true renaissance man: He founded the Universidad de La Plata, his written works totaled 25 volumes, and he also served as a legislator and diplomat.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Argentina, 3rd edition