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Fodor's Buenos Aires
Plaza de Mayo
Plaza de Mayo Review
Since its construction in 1580, this has been the setting for Argentina's most politically turbulent moments, including the uprising against Spanish colonial rule on May 25, 1810—hence its name. The square was once divided in two by a recova (gallery), but this reminder of colonial times was demolished in 1883, and the square's central monument, the Pirámide de Mayo, was later moved to its place. The pyramid you see is actually a 1911 extension of the original, erected in 1811 on the anniversary of the Revolution of May, which is hidden inside. The bronze equestrian statue of General Manuel Belgrano, designer of Argentina's flag, dates from 1873, and stands at the east end of the plaza.
The plaza remains the traditional site for ceremonies, rallies, and protests. Thousands cheered for Perón and Evita here; anti-Peronist planes bombed the gathered crowds in 1955; there were bloody clashes in December 2001 (hence the heavy police presence and crowd-control barriers); but the crowds were jubilant for Argentina's massive bicentenary celebrations in 2010. The white head scarves painted around the Pirámide de Mayo represent the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo (Mothers of May Square) who have marched here every Thursday at 3:30 for more than two decades. Housewives and mothers–turned–militant activists, they demand justice for los desaparecidos, the people who were "disappeared" during the military government's reign from 1976 to 1983, and welcome visitors to join in.
Casa Rosada. The eclectic Casa de Gobierno, better known as the Casa Rosada or Pink House, is at Plaza de Mayo's eastern end, with its back to the river. The building houses the government's executive branch—the president works here but lives elsewhere—and was built in the late 19th century over the foundations of an earlier customhouse and fortress. Swedish, Italian, and French architects have since modified the structure, which accounts for the odd mix of styles. Its curious hue dates from the presidency of Domingo Sarmiento, who ordered it painted pink as a symbol of unification between two warring political factions, the federales (whose color was red) and the unitarios (represented by white). Local legend has it that the original paint was made by mixing whitewash with bull's blood.
The balcony facing Plaza de Mayo is a presidential podium. From this lofty stage Evita rallied the descamisados (the shirtless—meaning the working class), Maradona sang along with soccer fans after winning one World Cup and coming second in another, and Madonna sang her filmed rendition of "Don't Cry for Me Argentina." Check for a small banner hoisted alongside the nation's flag, indicating "the president is in."
On weekends, hour-long guided tours take in some of the presidential offices and the newly opened Galería de los Patriotas Argentinos del Bicentenario (Bicentennial Gallery of Patriots), a pictorial who's who of Argentina's national heroes. The country's heroines have a room of their own here, which is often used for presidential press conferences. A impassioned Evita presides over black-and-white photographs of Argentina's other great dames. Balcarce 50, Plaza de Mayo, C1064AAB. 11/4344–3714. www.presidencia.gov.ar/visitas-guiadas. Free. Weekends 10–6.
Museo Histórico Nacional del Cabildo y de la Revolución de Mayo. The city council—now based in the ornate building over Avenida de Mayo—originally met in the Cabildo. It dates from 1765, and is the only colonial building on Plaza de Mayo. The epicenter of the May Revolution of 1810, where patriotic citizens gathered to vote against Napleonic rule, the hall is one of Argentina's national shrines. However, this hasn't stopped successive renovations to its detriment, including the demolition of the whole right end of the structure to make way for the new Avenida de Mayo in 1894 and of the left end for Diagonal Julio Roca in 1931. The small museum of artifacts and documents pertaining to the events of the May Revolution is less of an attraction than the building itself. As part of the 2010 bicentenary celebrations, a 3D video-mapping spectacular was projected onto the facade as an audience of thousands watched from Plaza de Mayo. Thursday and Friday from 11 to 6, an artisan fair takes place on the Patio del Cabildo. Bolívar 65, Plaza de Mayo, C1066AAA. 11/4342–6729. 4 pesos. Wed.–Fri. 10:30–5, weekends 11:30–6. Line A, Plaza de Mayo; Line D, Catedral; Line E, Bolívar.
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