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The Obelisk and the Avenida 9 de Julio

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Avenida 9 de Julio, which cuts north-south through the city is one of the world’s widest avenues. Where it intersects Calle Corrientes, the city’s most emblematic symbol shoots grandly into the air: the Obelisk of Buenos Aires. The phallus-shaped monument is the perfect symbol for a country that so proudly basks in machismo.

Obelisk Buenos Aires

My, that’s quite an impressive… monument you have there, Argentina! Reaching 67 meters in height, the obelisk was built in 1936 by German engineers to celebrate the 400-year anniversary of Buenos Aires’ founding. Throughout the years, it’s been the scene of protests, vandalism, concerts and speeches. During Isabel Perón’s tyrannical presidency, a banner was hung on the obelisk that read “Silence is Healthy”. Ostensibly a message to keep traffic noise down, it was actually a thinly veiled warning that it might be smart for political opponents to keep their trouble-making mouths shut.

Biggest Street in the World

Crossing the street to get to the obelisk is an exercise in bravery. The Avenida 9 de Julio, at 140 meters of width (460 feet), is insane, with four separate lights to get across the street, and about 20 lanes of traffic. Well, “lanes” is an abstract term, as nobody pays the slightest bit of attention to the lines painted on the pavement. Cars weave in and out, passing perilously close to one another at speeds that make you sick. Velocity is the name of the game for pedestrians, as well: if you want to get across the avenue in one go, you have to jog.

Loud, crowded and stressful, I wouldn’t want to spend a whole day near the avenue, but every time I had to cross it, I became energized. With the obelisk towering high overhead, and cars zooming recklessly by on all sides, it’s tough not to be impressed.

Location of the Obelisk on our BA Map
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Buenos Aires Obelisk
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May 5, 2011 at 5:48 pm Comments (0)

The Plaza de Mayo

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The History of Argentina

With the Casa Rosada to the west and the city hall to the east, the Plaza de Mayo is undoubtedly the political nexus of Argentina. From famous speeches to white-hooded mothers united in a call for justice, the plaza has long been the focal point of the country’s most compelling dramas.

Buenos Aires

One of the more famous scenes was the massive October 17th, 1945 demonstration of the descamisados, organized by Evita and the CGT Workers’ Union to demand the release of Juan Peron from prison. After decades of misrule by military juntas, the people finally demanded to be heard. And they were.

Ten years later, the plaza became the blood-soaked scene of the most devastating attack ever to occur on Argentine soil. Juan Peron was still in office, empowering workers, and the country’s military leaders didn’t like that… not one little bit. As the opening salvo in an attempted coup d’etat, the country’s army and air force flew over the Plaza de Mayo and bombed a rally being held to support Peron. 355 died, and damage from the shrapnel is still visible today.

But the plaza’s most enduring image is that of the weekly Thursday vigils of the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo. During the Dirty War (1976-1983), the conservative government kidnapped, murdered and disappeared the remains of tens of thousands of young, liberal Argentinian men and women. Families were given no information as to the fate of their children, and in the face of government indifference, a group of mothers banded together in a call for justice. They donned white shawls and marched every Thursday around the Plaza de Mayo, silently pressing the government for answers.

It’s difficult to overestimate the bravery of these women. They congregated in full view of their children’s assassins, comfortably seated in the Casa Rosada, tacitly daring them to either arrest or murder a group of peaceful women. And in fact, their gamble wasn’t without consequence. Government operatives would occasionally sneak into the group, and a few mothers were disappeared themselves.

Every visitor to Buenos Aires is going to find themselves in the Plaza de Mayo at some point. On a sunny day, and especially at dusk when the setting sun illuminates the Casa Rosada, it can be beautiful. The country’s turbulent history may darken that beauty, but also makes it richer.

Plaza de Mayo on our Buenos Aires Map
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Plaza Mayo Buenos Aires
Plaza de Mayo
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In the STORM
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March 23, 2011 at 8:31 pm Comments (4)
The Obelisk and the Avenida 9 de Julio
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