We met our tour guide Liliana at Plaza de Mayo and gathered along the side of Hipólito Yrigoyen. As we stood in the shade, Liliana explained the founding of the square: its origens can be dated back to Juan de Garay’s foundation of Buenos Aires itself, in 1580.
One of the most iconic colonial buildings in the city is the Cabildo. The Cabildo, or ayuntamiento (town hall/city council), conducted the Spanish colonial political, judicial and economic administrations.
Liliana showed us photographs of how the building looked at the time, and the many reconstructions and alterations made on the building.
Liliana then told us about the importance of the Jesuit Missons (Roman Catholic Religious Order founded in 1540) and their presence in Buenos Aires. In 1608, the mission settled in Buenos Aires, close to the current Plaza de Mayo, where the Jesuits built their first house, church and school in Argentina. Since the place where the Jesuits were located had become dangerous (they were directly in front of the Casa Rosada) they moved to new locations to Alsina, Moreno, Bolívar and Peru Streets in downtown Buenos Aires.
In 1821, El Argos newspaper named this area the Manzana de las Luces because of its cultural and educational institutions: The metaphorical luces (lights) of its name refers to the “illuminated” scholars who worked within. At this point, Liliana was very amused by my question: “But why is it called Apple of Light?”.
Liliana in her very easy to understand Spanish explained that manzana can also mean block or square.
Next, we moved on to the Saint Domingo Convent or Convento de Santo Domingo. The building of the present church started in 1751. Except for the right hand side tower, which was reconstructed in 1856, and some details of the facade, the chapel still keeps to its original appearance. National hero Manuel Belgrano’s mausoleum* has been kept here since 1903. There are also confessionals made of marble and flags taken from the British troops in 1807.
The final destination of our tour was the main square in San Telmo: Plaza Dorrego. Historically, wagons would stop here before crossing the San Lorenzo for food and rest. This historic plaza was the sight of the swearing of National Independence in 1816 before Don Juan Martín de Pueyrredón. For the finale of the tour, Liliana read out the Declaration of Argentine Independence in the same spot it was read out 197 years ago. It was a really informative and interesting tour. We really learned a lot that day!
*A mausoleum is an outdoor free standing burial chamber. Belgrano’s is in the entrance courtyard to the Chapel.