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In Memoriam of Domingo Faustino Sarmiento


President Sarmiento in 1873 (from Wikipedia)

This year is a special one for Argentina with the upcoming October elections in mind. What many people don’t know is that 2011 is also special for another reason; the bicentenary of a the birth of a big name in Argentina; Domingo Faustino Sarmiento (1811-88).

To better know him – and an important part of Argentine history – you should definitely visit the Sarmiento Historical Museum, where you can find all the information, objects, books and photos about this Argentine legend. There are more than enough reasons to devote a museum to this jack of all trades: he was both the seventh president of Argentina, an activist, intellectual, world traveller and writer.

His writings had an important influence on the region’s literature and spanned a wide range of genres and topics; from journalism to autobiography, to political philosophy and history. His most famous work is the polemic ‘Facundo’ about civilisation and barbarism. Sarmiento was also a member of a group of intellectuals, known as the Generation of 1837′, which had a great influence on 19th century Argentina.

He was president of the Republic of Argentina from 1868 till 1874; when the age of the gaucho was ending, and the age of the merchant and cattleman beginning. Sarmiento sought to create basic freedoms, and wanted to ensure civil safety and progress for everyone. He was well known for his modernisation of the country and he firmly believed in democracy and European liberalism, but was most often seen as a romantic.

Coming from a family of writers, orators and clerics, Sarmiento placed a great value on education and learning. He opened a number of schools including the first school in Latin America for teachers in Santiago in 1842 and proceeded to open 18 more schools. Sarmiento’s belief was that education was the key to happiness and success, and that a nation could not be democratic if it was not educated and therefore: “We must educate our rulers ”

Despite Sarmiento being well known historically, he was not a popular president. During his presidency, Argentina conducted the unpopular War of the Triple Alliance against Paraguay and by the arrival of a large influx of European immigrants, which resulted in the outbreak of Yellow Fever in Buenos Aires and the risk of civil war, his popularity became only worse. Sarmiento’s presidency was marked by ongoing rivalry between Buenos Aires and the provinces. In the war against Paraguay, Sarmiento’s adopted son was killed, and Sarmiento suffered from immense grief and was thought to never have been the same again.

In August 1873, Sarmiento was the target of an unsuccessful assassination attempt and a year later he completed his term as president and stepped down, handing his presidency over to Nicolás Avellaneda, his former Minister of Education. In May 1888, Sarmiento left Argentina for Paraguay, accompanied by his daughter, Ana, and his companion Aurelia Vélez. He died in Asunción on 11th September 1888 from a heart attack and was buried in Buneos Aires at Recoleta Cemetery.

Museo Historio Sarmient (Photo: Gabriela Sellart)

Not only the man, but also the building of the historical museum of Sarmiento is a history on its own. In 1880, during the presidency of Nicolas Avellaneda, it was the headquarters of the national government, during the struggles between the national and provincial authorities. The Belgrano Congress held it sessions in this building, during which it passed the Law of Federalisation of Buenos Aires in its main hall. The building is a prime example of the style of an era, which began in 1850 when the Italian ‘Neo-Renaissance’ has its influences on Argentine architecture. It has been declared a national historical monument and since 11th September 1938 the building was officially inaugurated as the Sarmiento historical museum. Almost all the material you can find in the museum has been donated to the nation by Sarmiento’s family.

The museum’s collection includes objects that belonged to Sarmiento and his family. By making your way through the 11 rooms of the museum, you will encounter the entire life story of Sarmiento, which is explained very clearly and illustrated with photos and images. Next to many objects and documents of the founding father, you can find a big part of the heritage of the man; rooms where his former kitchen, dining room, salon and sleeping room are rebuild in wonderful state; decorated and showed with many details. Everything is provided with extensive information (in Spanish), next to a little brochure with information (English and Spanish).

The present exhibition ‘Dialogues about May – Sarmiento and the romantic thinkers of 1810-1850’ pays special attention to four famous young intellectuals of this time. Its about their ideals, in which way they are the same and in which way they differ, about their travels, banishments and their literary works.

This entire year the museum organises activities as conferences, reading session and music activities among others, with this month an Italian Film Festival.

Open Mon-Fri 1-6pm and weekend 3-7pm. Entrance $5 and free on Tuesdays. Guided tours Sunday 4pm or on request. For more information click here.

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