San Telmo, a Porteño Mix

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  Tangol 15/06/2016

One of the oldest and most bohemian neighborhoods of Buenos Aires City lies near Casa Rosada. Among antique shops and traditional cafes, San Telmo still offers an authentic taste of Buenos Aires.

Colonial houses, cobblestone streets, and old-fashioned street lamps, which light up narrow sidewalks, make up San Telmo’s landscape. Despite the housing boom and the opening of trendy boutiques, art galleries, and restaurants, which have modernized the neighborhood’s appearance, San Telmo keeps the reminiscence of its history. Its suburban and nostalgic atmosphere—a typical characteristic of porteños—blends into the most modern and contemporary cultural trends.
Bounded by Chile, Defensa, and Piedras Streets, and Ingeniero Huergo, Brasil, Paseo Colón, Martín García, and Caseros Avenues, the district owes its name to San Pedro González Telmo Parish. However, originally, the land known as Alto—due to its elevated geography—was a port area. Real Street, today Defensa, used to be the busiest street because it connected the riverbank, where the port was, with Plaza Mayor (today Plaza de Mayo). Its first inhabitants settled down strategically on this road, and at the end of the 18th century, they set up a stop in an empty lot for horse-drawn carts used to carry goods. Today, that place is Plaza Coronel Dorrego, the neighborhood’s most important landmark and a key point to understand part of Argentina’s history.

The small square where the city’s neighbors took the oath of independence signed in Tucumán in 1816, also became the epicenter of the most traditional patrician families of Buenos Aires. Its large colonial houses shaped the architectural features of the neighborhood, although the community identity was built upon the poor and working classes.

With the yellow fever outbreak of 1871, the wealthiest residents moved to the north of the city, and their dwellings became tenement houses. The immigrants, who arrived in big waves from different parts of Europe at the time, rented the rooms of those huge houses to live with their families until they could get a better standard of living, sharing the kitchen, bathroom, and courtyard. Thus, the overcrowding added to the mixture of cultures, languages, and sounds that still remain in San Telmo, to the point that tango and candombe can still be heard today along its cobblestone streets lined with temples from different origins and religions.

While the neighborhood was falling into decline and shaping its final look of majestic modesty, the square used to serve as the Main Market. Although the market was demolished in 1897 when the current San Telmo Market was opened, the place kept alive the selling-buying concept with the creation of the Feria de Cosas Viejas y Antigüedades (Antiques and Vintage Fair) in 1970 (open every weekend). Its opening sealed the essence of the neighborhood; since it was set up, antiques dealers began to spread all over the area.

Since then, some avenues have been broadened and some historical places have been pulled down (including Casa del Naranjo, the oldest house of the city dating back to the 17th century), but San Telmo hasn’t lost its original flair. Not only because it still features some constructions with historic significance, such as Casa Mínima, Viejo Almacén, or Casa de los Ezeiza, but also because the neighborhood’s antiques, vintage and second-hand stores, as well as its tango parlors (tanguerías), have managed to blend into contemporaneity. As a fusion place, which was rich and poor at the same time, the neighborhood—the city’s edge and center—houses modern art museums and a variety of workshops of exclusive designs, together with grocery stores and flea markets; as well as traditional cafes such as La Poesía, El Federal, or El Británico, that coexist with signature restaurants. This cocktail certainly defines our personality in a few blocks. 


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