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Praca do Comercio, Lisbon, Portugal
Plaza de Mayo, Buenos Aires, Argentina - Famous City Squares
108    Dibyendu Banerjee    29/10/2021   

Encompassing several historical monuments, Plaza de Mayo, a city square and the main foundational site of the Capital City, Buenos Aires, was formed in 1884 after demolishing the Recova de la Carne, a building that divided the Plaza de la Victoria and Plaza del Fuerte. Named after the 1810 May Revolution, which saw Buenos Aires declare itself independent from Spain and thus instigating the Argentine War of Independence, it reflects the interesting history of Buenos Aires and Argentina and serves as the site of political demonstrations and national celebrations.

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The historic square is flanked by the Cabildo or the Town Hall at the western end and the Government House, commonly called the Casa Rosada or Pink House at the eastern end. An equestrian statue of General Manuel Belgrano, a significant military leader and the creator of the Argentine flag, stands in front of the Casa Rosada. The square is also the site of the Metropolitan Cathedral, a monumental building from the colonial period and the Central Bank of the Republic of Argentina, constructed by revered local architect Alejandro Bustillo, which formally housed the Colón Theatre.

plaza de mayo buenos aires argentina
The Pyramid of May

The Pyramid of May that stands proudly at the centre of the square; was constructed to commemorate the first anniversary of the May 1810 revolution, when Buenos Aires severed ties with Spain to become independent. While the Cabildo and La Catedral Metropolitana or the Metropolitan Cathedral reflect the 18th and early 19th century colonial architectural style, the Pirámide de Mayo or the Pyramid of May and the other buildings housing the offices of the national and local government and union offices reflect the styles of the late 19th and early to mid-20th centuries.

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The centre of Plaza de Mayo, equipped with benches and decorated with palm trees and fountains, is a popular meeting place for the locals.

plaza de mayo buenos aires argentina

However, the origin of the Plaza de Mayo can be traced back to the foundation of Buenos Aires in 1580 by Juan de Garay, a Spanish conquistador. After his plan for a central plaza was abandoned, the Jesuit clergyman secured a title to much of the 2 hectares of it in 1608. Long after that, its eastern half was purchased by the local government in 1661 for inclusion into the grounds of the city's new fort, which soon became the Plaza de Armas. After careless use and negligence for more than a century, the local colonial government attempted to give it a beauty treatment and built a colonnade across it from north to south. The construction of the Romanesque structure, namedRecova de la Carne, was completed in 1804 and became the plaza's market, while the lot to the west of the colonnade became the Plaza de la Victoria.

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Finally, after the construction of the Pirámide de Mayo in 1811 to commemorate the newly independent Provinces of the Rio de la Plata, Mayor Torcuato de Alvear released an order to mordernise the area, which resulted in the demolition of the Recova de la Carne, paving the way of the modern Plaza de Mayo.

plaza de mayo buenos aires argentina
Cabildo de Buenos Aires

Among the imposing buildings bordering the historic squares, Cabildo de Buenos Aires, the first government building in the city and the former seat of the viceroyalty, was built in Baroque style of architecture in 1610. However, due to negligence and lack of maintenance, the building became dilapidated by 1682. But construction of the new building was delayed and started as late as on 23 July 1725. However, although the tower of the new Cabildo was finished in 1764, the building was not fully completed even by the time of the May Revolution in 1810. Much later, the tower was raised by 10 metres in 1880 by architect Pedro and instead of the traditional colonial red tiles, he crowned it with a dome covered with glazed tiles. But, out of its original eleven arches, the building lost its three northernmost arches in 1889, which were demolished to create space for the broad Avenida de Mayo. Unfortunately, the number of the arches was reduced to only five, when the three southernmost arcs were also removed in 1931 to create room for the Avenida Julio A.Roca, popularly known as Diagonal Sur. Later, architect Mario Buschiazzo repaired and reconstructed the colonial features like iron bars on windows, wooden doors and windows, red tiles and the tower of the El Cabildo in 1940. Currently, the Cabildo hosts the National Museum of the Cabildo and the May Revolution, in whichpaintings, artefacts, clothes and jewellery of the 18th century are displayed.

plaza de mayo buenos aires argentina
Diagonal Sur

La Catedral Metropolitana de Buenos Aires, the main Catholic Church in the Capital City, was rebuilt several times since its humble origins in the 16th century. The present building, consecrated and opened for public reception in 1836, was constructed in a mix of architectural styles, with an 18th-century nave and dome and an impressive 19th-century neoclassical façade without towers. Although the interior was originally equipped with only the altarpieces, at the end of the 19th century the walls and ceilings were decorated by the Italian Francesco Paolo Parisi with frescoes depicting several biblical scenes. The pediment of its impressive facade, decorated with reliefs depicting the scene of the reunion of Joseph with his brother and father Jacob in Egypt, symbolising the unity of the Argentine nation, was created by the French sculptor Joseph Dubourdieu and was completed between 1860 and 1863. The mortal remains of General Jose de San Martin, one of the greatest South American liberators, were placed in a mausoleum in the church in 1880.

plaza de mayo buenos aires argentina
The Metropolitan Cathedral

Facing the broad Avenida de Mayo in the west, the Casa Rosada was constructed in the early 20th century on the site of a Spanish fort, used by the Spanish colonial viceroys. Named after its distinctive colour, it serves as the seat of the Argentine national government and houses the president's office. From its balcony, Eva Perón, an Argentine actress, politician, activist, as well as the wife of Argentine President Juan Perón, famously addressed the throngs of impassioned supporters packed into the Plaza de Mayo. The three storey building contains a museum, declared a National Historic Monument of Argentina, exhibiting several items used by the presidents of Argentina.

plaza de mayo buenos aires argentina
The statue of General Manuel Belgrano in front of Casa Rosoda

The Plaza de Mayo has always been the focal point of political life in Buenos Aires and has witnessed several mass movements. Thousands gathered in the square on 17 October 1945, demanding the release of Juan Domingo Perón, who was imprisoned as his growing popularity was viewed as a threat by his party. The mass protest resulted in the release of Perón and eventually, he won the Presidential Election next year to become the President of the country. Since then, the date has been marked as the Loyalty day, as President Perón and his wife Eva Perón, popularly known as Evita, delivered their speeches from the balcony of Casa Rosada to the loyal supporters gathered in the square. Later, on 16 June 1955, the Argentine Air force bombed the square to overthrow Peron’s government, killing 321 people, while more than 700 were injured. Even today, the day is remembered as La Masacre de La Plaza de Mayo or May Square Massacre. Apart from that, every Thursday afternoon since 1977, women wearing white headscarves assemble in the square around the May Pyramid, to demonstrate against the disappearance of their children during the military dictatorship between 1976 and 1983.

plaza de mayo buenos aires argentina
The City Hall

The Plaza de Mayo, regarded as the biggest public square in Argentina, is equally popular among the locals and visitors. Benches are provided for the people intending to a rest or interested in gossiping or pondering the past or leisurely watching and enjoying the surroundings.Free live music events are common at Plaza de Mayo for the entertainment of the visitors, which also contribute to the celebration of May Revolution Day on 25 May and Independence Day on 9 July every year.

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Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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