Palacio Paz – A Private Home Fit for Kings
Fleeing the yellow fever which was devastating the city’s southern barrios at the beginning of the 20th century, Buenos Aires’ most wealthy families established fabulous residences around Retiro’s Plaza San Martín. None were more extravagant than the Palacio Paz.
José Camilio Paz was the founder of La Prensa, the city’s most influential newspaper, and a man whose success brought him to the forefront of Porteño society. He was Argentina’s ambassador to France, and harbored aspirations to the presidency. Clearly, he regarded himself as a man of much import, and so ordered the construction of an outrageous private home in the heart of the city.
Like many Argentinians of his day, Paz was obsessed with Europe, and returned to France to choose an architect and materials. Construction on the palace stretched from 1901 to 1914, but Paz died in 1912 without ever seeing the completed work. But his widow and family happily moved in, and enjoyed a life of absolute splendor.
As we were taking the tour, our guide stressed that the Palacio Paz was for a family of nine. Yet, regardless of how many times I heard that, I couldn’t wrap my mind around the idea. This was a place fit for royalty. At four stories and 12,000 square meters of space, the sheer size of it is incredible. The nine family members had sixty servants at their disposal. There are seven elevators. Seven.
Our tour started in the reception area, moved into the ball room, then a long gallery, decked out with wooden benches and velvet walls. We continued through the dining room of honor, where each guest had his own personal waiter, the smoking room, the ladies’ room, and the music room. At this point I was starting to lose my orientation; every room was just as gorgeous as the last. But on we marched, through the waiting room, to the music room and then into a round room which shattered my conceptions of what kind of things private wealth could actually purchase.
This was the formal reception room, meant to leave guests astonished, and it accomplishes its task handily. A perfectly circular room over 21 meters in height with statues, paintings, marbled columns and a ceiling fresco dedicated to Louis XIV, the Sun King. From here, we were led into the garden, and had the chance to admire the iron wrought sun room on the palace’s back side.
After the Paz family moved on, the palace was purchased by the Círculo Militar for private functions and, except for the unfortunate addition of a sporting area which replaced the garage and stables, it’s survived almost completely intact into the modern day. The tour costs $40 (US$10) per person, and is a wonderful chance to see how magnificently rich porteños of the early 20th century were able to live.