A city full of landmarks, Buenos Aires seems to have something commemorated at every turn. Whilst most are of historic or artistic interest to the public, others are viewed, or have at some time in the past been viewed, with contempt.
Since the story behind the statue is often more intriguing than the monument itself, our Top 5 this week brings you a selection of the city’s controversial landmarks.
Obelisco de Buenos Aires
Probably the city’s most recognisable landmark, the obelisk of Buenos Aires stands tall at the junction of Av. 9 de Julio and Corrientes. Erected in 1936 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the founding of Buenos Aires, the monument was designed by architect Alberto Prebisch, and reaches 67m into the sky from a base of 49m2.
Many residents initially objected to its stark and unimaginative appearance; their grievances further enhanced by the fact that in its place once stood the church of San Nicolás de Bari. The church, a historical site where the Argentine flag was officially flown for the first time in 1812, was demolished to make way for the construction of the grand Av. 9 de Julio and the Obelisk.
Three years after its construction, the city council voted 23:1 to tear the monument down but the order was vetoed by a municipal executive power, securing the survival of a monument that is today a popular venue for various cultural activities and events.
Although the public isn’t allowed to enter, there are 206 steps inside the Obelisk leading to four small windows at the top. Each side represents a historical date beginning with the first, albeit unsuccessful founding of Buenos Aires in 1536, the second founding in 1580, the first raising of the Argentine flag in 1812, and the establishment of Buenos Aires as Argentina’s capital city in 1880.
In 2005, the Obelisk was famously covered by a giant pink condom to commemorate World Aids Day, and in 2006 was transformed into a pencil, paying tribute to the students who were kidnapped and murdered during the military dictatorship’s Night of the Pencils in 1976. The monument has also been scaled by several acrobatic troupes to perform high-wire acts.
Av. 9 de Julio and Av. Corrientes, Inaugurated 23rd May 1936
Homenaje al Quijote
This dramatic bronze statue, of Cervante’s grandiose anti-hero Don Quixote, was gifted by Spain in 1980 to celebrate the founding of the city of Buenos Aires in 1580.
Crafted by Aurelio Teno, a Spanish sculptor well known for his numerous depictions of Don Quixote, the statue measures 15 metres tall and weighs an impressive 200 tonnes. Built in Uruguay, with the help of seven engineers and more than 100 other workers, it took more than six months to complete but neither the great deal of work, nor the presence of Spain’s Queen Sofía at its inauguration, could save the statue from public opinion.
Immediately after its installation, it was harshly criticised, mostly by other artists, for being unsightly, poorly located and irrelevant to Argentina.
Looking very much like its bemused yet determined namesake, the sculpture captures not only the oddity of Don Quixote’s character but also of his steed, whose awkward twisting neck has been sculpted to appear more bull-like than horse.
Sculptor Antonio Pujia called it “tasteless, vulgar and completely lacking in creativity”, whilst the painter Nicolás García Uriburu described it as “the ugliest thing in the city”. Others claimed it was imbalanced and out of proportion with one critic likening it to a scarecrow, and another referring to the white pedestal base as a giant sugar cube.
Offended by the work perhaps out of a national pride, many Argentines felt the statue represented a belittling of Buenos Aires by the Spanish and called for its relocation to the Plaza España, a location perhaps more fitting for its theme.
For more than 30 years the statue has remained in its original position however, although now lacks the descriptive plaque which the city government ceased replacing after it was vandalised and stolen on successive occasions.
Av. 9 de Julio and Hipólito Yrigoyen Avenue, Inaugurated June 1980
Monumento a Eva Perón
This statue, which sits before the National Library on Av. Libertador, is surprisingly the only statue in Buenos Aires commemorating the life of Eva Perón, one of the most controversial female figures in Argentine history and the famous wife of former president, Juan D. Perón.
Commissioned as recently as 1999, Argentine sculptor, Ricardo Gianetti, designed the bronze monument to sit atop a granite pedestal, depicting a slender, almost waiflike impression of the woman known as Evita. Her appearance, seeming somewhat uncomfortable in her surroundings, is fitting, since many who opposed the political policies of her and her husband never wanted her there in the first place.
The location, strange as it may seem, was chosen because the site directly behind the statue is where the elegant Unzué Palace once stood. The former presidential home and the place where Evita died, was demolished by the military opposition as soon as Perón had been removed as the president of Argentina, with the objective of destroying everything that represented the dynamic couple.
In 1960, the land was declared an historic site and plans were made to build the National Library, an architectural landmark which itself divides aesthetic opinion.
The National Library, Av. Libertador between Agüero and Austria, Inaugurated 3rd December 1999
Fuente de las Nereidas
At the turn of the 20th century, the city of Buenos Aires inaugurated the fountain called “Fuente de las Nereidas”, otherwise known as ‘Lola Mora’.
A sensuous and erotic work, the monument was designed by the young and rebellious Argentine artist, Dolores Hernández-Mora, and carved completely from Carrara marble.
Depicting the mythical birth of Venus in ways reminiscent of a famous work by Italian painter Sandro Botticelli, Mora’s statue introduced controversial animalistic undertones to an otherwise delicate deity.
Featuring a retinue of nude sea nymphs and three virile figures wrestling winged horses, the fountain roused reactions from moralists who argued not only against its pornographic nature and the licentiousness of its nude figures, but also objected to its sculptor’s decision to wear trousers rather than skirt.
Perhaps a woman before her time, Mora married a man 20 years her senior when she was 40 years old, only to be left by him five years later. Some claimed she was bisexual, although there were also rumours that she had a love affair with Julio A. Roca, the former president of Argentina, and himself a polemic figure.
Originally placed in the Parque Colón Sur near the Casa Rosada, pressure from moralists resulted in the relocation of the monument to Puerto Madero’s Costanera Sur in 1918.
Amid the controversy that arose from its installation, Mora wrote expressing her regret at having provoked such emotions but welcomed the opinion of a public who was not yet ready for her: “I deeply regret what is happening, but I don’t see these as expressions of repudiation, rather the pure and noble voice of my people. That is the final judgment.”
The sculpture was recently recognised as one of the most important in the city however, when it was declared a National Historic Monument in 1997.
Costanera Sur in Puerto Madero, Inaugurated 21st May 1903
Monumento a Julio Argentino Roca
Situated at the crossroads of Av. Julio A. Roca and Perú, this towering statue is probably the most controversial in all of Buenos Aires.
Honouring the former Argentine president Julio A. Roca (1843-1914), its commission in almost 30 years later, was viewed by many as an affront of human rights, especially those of the indigenous people of Patagonia.
During his term as Minister of War, Roca had led a campaign famously known as the ‘Conquest of the Desert’. In his efforts to take control of land in southern Argentina and strengthen the country’s strategic position against Chile, he called for operations to subdue and remove all of the native tribes that occupied Southern Argentina, killing 1,250 Indians and imprisoning 3,000 more in the process.
In 2004, the journalist Osvaldo Bayer gave a public address calling for its removal on the grounds the statue had offensive associations and that its subject was undeserving. “It’s the tallest statue of a genocide hero,” he commented, and indeed the towering horseman is scarcely visible to passers-by because of its tremendous height.
The artist, Uruguayan sculptor José Zorrilla, designed the statue in such a way that Roca looms rather ominously, as someone you wouldn’t want to cross. But despite being the object of so much hate, there are some who feel honouring the ex-president is now justified. “In his moment he was very much admired,” says a woman who works in a nearby museum. “It was a different era from the one we are in now. You can’t change history.”
Although the statue has remained in its original spot since its inauguration in 1941, a sturdy fence around the base frequently fails in protecting it from inevitable vandalism and the plastering of political campaign posters.
Plaza Ricardo Tanturi, Av. de Julio A. Roca and Perú, 19th October 1941