Buenos Aires History

Before traveling to Argentina it is a good idea to discover Buenos Aires history. This will help you to understand what you will find here in the land of Tango.


Buenos Aires history

Buenos Aires history 1500’s – The history of Buenos Aires begins with Argentina history. The Spanish explorer Jaun Diaz de Solis discovered the Rio De Plata in 1516 and set up camp in what is now La Boca but was killed by natives. Many believe they ate they him too.


The second time Europeans tried to settle was in 1536 when Pedro de Mendoza arrived by land from Asuncion and set up a camp in what is now the neighborhood of san Telmo. Mendoza was seeking gold for Spain at the time and called the settlement Santa María del Buen Ayre, which means Our Lady of the Fair Winds. He choose this site because of the strategic location of the mouth of the river Plate before it runs into the Atlantic ocean. However the native peoples, who were part of the Inca Empire, forced the settlement to abandon the site in 1541 and Mendoza went back to Spain.


Finally, in 1580 Jaun de Garay sailed down from the northern silver mining town of Asunsion and was able to permanently claim the site of what is present day Buenos Aires. Many feel this is where Buenos Aires history really begins.He and his crew built a fort at the high ground of plaza San Martin where the government offices are today, and other forts around the town. They built a monument called Palo de la Justicia on what is now Plaza de Mayo. They built the Cabildo and a church where the Metropolitan Cathedral stands today. They organized the city much as we still see it now with the center at Plaza de Mayo and the port in La Boca. They renamed the city Santísima Trinidad, and its port, Santa María de los Buenos Aires.



Buenos Aires history 1600’s – In 1620 Buenos Aires was separated from Asuncion and received it’s own governor. During the 1600’s the natives stopped attacking the town and there were a large degree of intermarriage with the Europeans. Many of those descendents still live in Argentina today. There were raids from neighboring French Portuguese and Danish villages during this period.


Buenos Aires history 1700’s – In the 1700’s Buenos Aires received it’s own viceroy, Juan José de Vértiz thus changing it from a village to a city. The viceroyalty installed cobblestone streets, street lamps and a printing press. The fort at Plaza San Martin was used for the viceroyalty’s headquarters. Also during this time the church San Ignacio was built and continues to be one of the oldest structures in Buenos Aires today.


For the next 200 years, Spanish authorities required that all European imports and exports must pass through Lima Peru to be taxed. This was because at the time, there was gold in Mexico and Peru. Lima is on the Pacific coast, which made things far more difficult and caused frustration for the local Buenos Aires citizens and resentment against the Spanish administration. It also created an illegal and profitable trade scheme in Buenos Aires. But hindered its growth during this period. Finally in the late 1700’s, Charles the 3rd of Spain lifted the sanctions of Buenos Aires making it a free trading port to ease the tension and reduce the illegal activity. However the peoples of Buenos Aires still leaned toward independence from Spain.


Buenos Aires history 1800’s – In 1806 and 1807 the British attacked the city but were eventually beaten by a local volunteer army. This fighting gave courage to the city of Buenos Aires and on May 9 1810, they declared their independence from Spain. This was after Napoleon had overthrown the king of Spain and put his brother on the thrown. On May 25th 1810 a group of soldiers called the citizens of the Cabildo, actually forced the resignation of the Spanish viceroy. The city set up a temporary government with Cornelio Saavedra as president and officially declared independence 6 years later on July 9 in 1816.


There was significant slave trade in Buenos Aires around the 1800’s. The city was used as a stop mostly before sailing north. And at one time a third of the city’s population was black. Argentina did not employ slavery as much as it neighbors; however some did. During many of the battles between South American countries in the early 1800’s, the Argentina government used slaves to fight or help during the wars. The decedents of these slaves have moved away and are all but gone from the city today.


In 1822 the area of Recoleta began to improve and boom with people traveling from Buenos Aires to the north by way of Recoleta. The Recoleta cemetery was designated as the public cemetery for ordinary citizens. And of course as Recoleta grew into an area for the elite, so did its cemetery.


In 1857 the British and other European groups began investing in Buenos Aires by building railroads to the interior and the Pampas farm land as well as streetcars. This economic development allowed goods made in Buenos Aires to be sold throughout the country and even the world. In 1876, the first shipment of wheat left for Europe. In 1880 this rise in economic activity lead to Buenos Aires being the country’s capital. The city then extended from what is now the Plaza Once to the Riachuelo River.



Buenos Aires toursAlso during this time in 1861, the providences began to clash with the city because the city and its province were in control of the rest of the country. General Mitre was able to defeat the attacks of the provinces and the city was assigned as the capital of Argentina. The province and city of Buenos Aires ruled the rest of the country for many years after this. And this is where the word “porteno” began. To differentiate between the people of the port and the people of the rest of country who are called “bonaereneses”.


There was a severe Yellow fever epidemic in Buenos Aires in 1867 that transformed the city. Before this time most people lived South of the center. La Boca housed the poorer new immigrants and San Telmo housed the wealthier citizens. After the disease, most residents from those areas abandoned their homes and began to build North of the center in what is now Recoleta and Palermo.


The profits from cattle and farm trading as well as the need to build new homes caused a building boom. The typical Buenos Aires houses or “conventillos” that housed the European immigrants began to clash with the new palaces. Art nouveau and the Romantic style architecture were copied from Europe that can be seen today on buildings like the Children’s Hospital and the Escuela Normal de Maestras.


Also booming in the late 1800’s was immigration from Europe. The first to arrive were poor farmers from Spain and Italy. Then came the Jews, Poles, Croats, Czechs and Ukrainians, among others. Then polices of immigration began to stiffen and only Northern Europeans were allowed bringing in the English and Irish. They were bankers, office workers, engineers and financial experts and designed the railroad network, and their architectural designs can still be found in train stations and the docks of the port. In 1895, 75% of the city was foreigners.


It was during this time that brothels became numerous in areas like San Telmo. These served as entertainment for the masses of single men from Europe. Because competition was fierce in the brothel industry, the owners employed musicians. And these musicians fused various types of music from Spain and Italy and from music they heard from slave trading. Thus paving the way for the beginning of what we know now today as Tango.


Buenos Aires history 1900’s – In the early 1900’s Buenos Aires was one of the richest cites on Earth and its port was one of the busiest. By 1905 both the Congress and the Casa Rosada were complete. During this time new construction sprang up all over the city including the first subway in South America and most of the buildings in the center were constructed at this time. Buenos Aires wanted to show off to the rest of the world and imported most of its marble and other building materials from Europe. At this time the Theater Colon was built and became the premier opera house in the world. When Argentines were in Europe, they were stereotyped as always asking for 3 of everything. Carlos Pelligrini was president at the time and promoted horse breeding and racing and sponsored the Jockey Club in Recoleta, which is still an elite men’s club. By the 1920’s, Buenos Aires was a favored destination for immigrants from Europe, as well as from the poorer provinces and neighboring countries, and large shantytowns started growing around the city’s industrial areas, causing social problems.





In the early 1900’s the entire economy was based on grain and cattle products shipped in from the interior of Argentina and exported around the world at this time. Ave 9 de Julio was constructed during this era by destroying an entire city block and dumping the materials into the river behind the Casa Rosada creating what today is Puerto Madero and the ecological reserve. Later when automobile arrived, the city began to spread west and north. These high times lasted until the world economic crisis of 1929. Later in 1936 the Obelisk was built as the national monument.


After the great depression Buenos Aires had a difficult time recovering which lasted up and into World War 2. There was wide spread poverty and difficulties in government. This gave way to the era of Peron. Peron was supported by the “Los Descamisados” (“the shirtless ones”), and was boosted into power in 1946 with help from labor unions. He helped to industrialize the city and provided social services from the government and restructured the city’s wealth. He also married Eva Duarte who would later be known as Evita. She had the ability to rally the masses like no one else and helped give women the right to vote in 1952. When Eva Peron died of Cancer in 1955, her funeral was an enormous event for Buenos Aires. Millions of people tried to view her open casket and 17 people were crushed to death in the crowd while hundreds of others were hospitalized for injuries.

To learn more about Eva Peron



Eva PeronIn 1955 the Argentine military bombed Plaza de Mayo to oust Peron from power. It was the only time Argentina has been attacked from the air and there are still shrapnel chips in the surrounding buildings today.


During the 1960’s Buenos Aires was submerged in social disorder and government problems and there were many kidnappings and killings and acts of terrorism while poverty was wide spread.


One of the darkest periods in Buenos Aires history was during the administration of Jorge Videla. He was boosted into power in 1976 by the army to ease the social tension of the country at the time. His methods of controlling the chaos were supreme acts of terrorism and kidnappings which left 30,000 people missing and many students and upper class citizens executed. Today, the families of these victims still morn there lost loved ones at Plaza de Mayo. Many of the men responsible for these crimes are actively hunted still.


Argentina historyDuring the mid 80’s the city began to build more apartment buildings in the center of the blocks to make room the for poverty stricken people from the interior who fled to Buenos Aires in hopes of work. There was still civil unrest and economic trouble in most of the city. After the Falklands war ended, Argentina built the monument in Plaza San Martin to the fallen soldiers of that war. The monument is placed directly across from the British tower to remind them of this incident.



The 90’s brought a period or economic growth and the city began to spread out even further. During this period the colectivos were invented. This was a small bus that sat about 25 people built on a small truck engine and would not go very fast but was always decorated uniquely. Today the larger buses have replaced the old colectivos. The Buenos Aires bus system functions extremely well and is often preferred to the subway. Also in the 90’s the city became a battlefield for warring Middle Eastern groups. On March 17, 1992 a terrorist bomb exploded in the Israeli Embassy killing 29 including a priest across the street, and injuring 242. Another explosion, on July 18, 1994 destroyed a building housing several Jewish organizations killing 96 and injuring many more.






Argentina travelBuenos Aires history 2000 – In 2001, the peso was devalued to pay off the national debt. This led to riots in Congress and at many bank locations. Most of the upper class was spared if they had foreign investments. However the lower and middle class often lost a great deal and separated the social structure of the city even further. Many more shantytowns sprang up on the edges of the cities and more social unrest followed.


However during the last 4 years, Buenos Aires has seen a surprising comeback and the cafes are filled with patrons and the city is making a profit again. There are signs of rebirth and growth in certain areas but it is slow. The actual amount of unemployed is often exaggerated and debated. Although there are homeless roaming the city, but not in the numbers often suggested.




Buenos Aires Argentina


Buenos Aires history today. There is a general feeling in Buenos Aires today of better times ahead but not right now. The buildings are somewhat decayed and most are unpainted. There is very little construction aside from the trendy Puerto Madero area. There is a new system of trash collection carried out by the carteneros. These people sift through the trash on the street every evening and sell the recyclables to other collectors. In 2005, there was fire in a nightclub that killed 197 people and the mayor was jailed for not insuring proper fire codes. Also in 2005 the government offered amnesty to illegal aliens. There is a steady flow of Chinese immigrants into the city who often own small grocery stores or cyber cafes. Tourism is huge at the moment due to the exchange rate. Buenos Aires continues to be an educational center for Latin America. It has produced 5 Nobel Prize winners.


Currently there are 13 million people in the greater Buenos Aires area and 47 different neighborhoods in the city.


Thank you for reading about Buenos Aires history and the history of Buenos Aires. If you have any futher questions about Buenos Aires Argentina history, feel free to contact us at. Or take the Buenos Aires history and cultural city tour given daily in English.

2 Responses to “Buenos Aires History”

  1. 1 MARIA GRACIELA SCHREIBER December 17, 2009 at 10:02 pm




  2. 2 Ney Paes Pinto February 22, 2012 at 2:50 pm

    Pls, I read about 3 Nobel Prize winners : 1 for Science, 1 for Literature and 1 for Peace. You mention 5. Who are they and what for were they nominated ?

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About the author of this blog.

Tom Wick is an American expat living in Buenos Aires. An expert travel consultant and tour guide offering free travel inforamtion and private guided tours of Buenos Aires.

Contact Me

Please write to me about any Buenos Aires Argentina travel information or about living in Buenos Aires as an expat. tangohistorytours@gmail.com

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