Balvanera ’s largest landmark, the neoclassical Congreso Nacional, was one of the last major public works projects undertaken before Francophile architecture became the norm. The Italianate building faces the Plaza de los dos Congresos and, in the distance, the Casa Rosada .
Argentines view their legislators with skeptical and even cynical eyes, and the Congreso has always given them reason. Progressive mayor Torcuato de Alvear chose the site in 1888; the Italian Vittorio Meano won a controversial design competition, but he overshot the budget and, following a congressional inquiry, died mysteriously by a gunshot from his maid in 1904.
Functional by 1906, the building didn’t receive its final touches until 1946. Its 80-meter bronze cupola still bears marks from the 1930 military coup against Hipólito Yrigoyen. Presidents who have died in office, such as Perón, have lain in state here (so did Evita, in 1952).
Phone at least an hour ahead for free guided tours of the upper-house Senado (Hipólito Yrigoyen 1849, tel. 011/4010-3000, ext. 3855, www.senado.gov.ar ), which take place weekdays at 11 a.m. in Spanish, English, and French; for English speakers, there is another tour at 4 p.m., and for Spanish speakers, additional tours at 5 and 6 p.m.
In Spanish only, free guided tours of the lower-house Cámara de Diputados (Avenida Rivadavia 1864, tel. 011/4370-7532, www.diputados.gov.ar ) take place weekdays except Wednesday at 10 a.m., noon, and 4 and 6 p.m.