San Martin Plaza with its palaces, mansions, monuments, churches and countless stories and legends is a favorite place for Buenos Aires walking tours
San Martin Plaza: Overview
Despite the fact that the Plaza San Martin constitutes quite a “new addition” to the city of Buenos Aires, it is probably one of its most historically “colorful” places.
The monument glorifying General San Martin erected in the southern part of the plaza is not only the tribute to “El Libertador” (The Liberator) but in a wider sense it reflects the military past of the Field of Glory as this area was called once upon a time.
Surrounding the plaza are some of the most amazing buildings in the whole country, each having interesting and intriguing stories in their records..
You will find here the beautiful “Beaux-Arts”– style mansion, once belonging to one of the richest and most powerful family in Argentina – Anchorena (today used by the Foreign Ministry for state receptions).
The “Jewel in the Crown” as certainly can be called the Basilica of the Blessed Sacrament flanks the opposite side of the plaza.
View of the San Martin Plaza (courtesy of the Buenos Aires Tourism Office.)
2. Calle Florida (Florida Street) - here at the intersection with the Marcelo T. de Alvear starts our walking tour.
5. Former Haedo Palace - today the seat of the Secretariat of Environmental Policy
6. Plaza San Martin - on the bottom left the Monument to the General Jose de San Martin, on the top - The Memorial for Islas Malvinas/Falklands Islands War
7. Palacio San Martin (former Anchorena Palace)
8. American Express Building with Pirelli Tower (along the Avenida Maipu)
10. Edificio Kavanagh (Kavanagh Building). Just behind you can see the Basilica del Santisimo Sacramento (Basilica of the Blessed Sacrament) and down on the sketch the luxurious Marriott Plaza Hotel
11. Plaza Fuerza Aerea Argentina (Argentinian Air Force Square) with the Monumental Tower (formerly English Tower)in the center.
Next to it another exceptional structure – at the time the tallest building in South America and the largest reinforced concrete structure in the world – Edificio Kavanagh.
Not far facing the plaza are the Paz Palace (today home to the Military Officers’ Association) and Haedo Palace (today the seat of the Secretariat of Environmental Police).
Dominating the northeastern part of the plaza English Tower evokes the “complexity” of the Argentinean past – collapsing Spanish influence and raising English appetites…. Well, this is just a very short introduction to the walking tour in the astonishing heart of the Barrio de Retiro in Buenos Aires - Plaza San Martin.
View of the Plazoleta Juvenilia - corner of the Florida and Marcelo T. de Alvear streets. (Courtesy of the Buenos Aires Tourism Office).
This bustling area of the Florida street is not part of our San Martin Plaza walking tour. You may notice here many shops and art galleries as well as historical buildings like Haedo Palace (shown with the cross-section on top right), the building where Jorge Luis Borges was living, the monument of Esteban Echeverria etc...
Short history and facts
Until the late 17th century this secluded area was known for being chosen by hermit monks for their shelters. Reflecting a way of life of its dwellers it was called “Retiro” (The Retreat). The local “landscape” did not change much when the San Sebastian monastery was established in the area as its monks followed a similar path of a spiritual seclusion.
The major change came in 1713 when part of the land was sold to the British South Sea Company. They opened and operated here a “thriving” slave market which lasted till 1813 when thankfully the slave trade was abolished in the province of the Rio de la Plata.
Well, after this short introduction we will start our walking tour around the San Martin Plaza, stopping at most interesting points. You will find a lot of historical information, stories left behind by owners of mansions, rumors and legends and for sure many pictures.
The first attempts to include the area of today’s Plaza San Martin into the city “sphere of interest” came at the end of the 17th century. The real kick-off came when the Governor of Buenos Aires Agustin de Robles built a luxurious country house (naming it El Retiro).
This was a strong signal which started the gradual development of the neighbourhood. In 1801 the bullfighting plaza with an impressive capacity for 10,000 people was built in the area. Fortunately soon after Argentina gained independence, this sort of “entertainment” was banned and as a result the arena was closed in 1819.
In 1807 on the nearby fields local armed forces defending the city of Buenos Aires defeated the 2nd English invasion lead by General John Whitelocke. Not surprisingly soon after the area gained a name El Campo de la Gloria (Field of Glory). Throughout the 19th century the district was largely used by the Argentinean army. The famous Regimiento de Granaderos a Caballo (Cavalry Regiment) created in 1812 by General José de San Martin used the land for barracks, stables and as a place for exercises. As a result the area changed its name once again – this time to Campo de Marte (Field of Mars).
In 1878 – on the 100th anniversary of birth of the Libertador (as is commonly called here the hero of the Wars for Independence) the square received its final name – Plaza of General Jose de San Martin.
The epidemic of yellow fever at the end of the 19th century convinced many wealthy families to move from the center of Buenos Aires to the apparently healthier Field of Mars area. The major remodeling work converting the plaza to its current form started in1880s when two architects - British Edward Taylor and Argentinean – José Canale were commissioned to bring it up to the expectations and needs of the local upper class. The final “touch” (close to what we can see today) was given to the plaza by the French urbanist Charles Thays in 1889.
And that was the turning point when the area started to take its final shape suddenly becoming one of the most elegant neighborhoods in Buenos Aires with beautiful mansions, lavish residences, luxurious hotels and parks. The latter - occupying the central part of the plaza amazes with large sections of blooming jacaranda and magnolia trees adding charm to this anyhow remarkable place.
Blooming jacaranda trees give a lot of charm to this anyhow beautiful place in the heart of Barrio Retiro.
On top of historical buildings surrounding the San Martin Plaza, the plaza itself is a beautiful example of art in the center of the city. Colorful trees, flowers, street lamps (each one is a real piece of art). In the middle you can see Edificio Kavanagh where we will stop for longer during our tour.
OK, so let's move with our San Martin Plaza Walking Tour and see what the tour offers throughout the next few pages.
We will start with the monument to the hero of the Latin America, General Jose de San Martin. We will then follow to the former Anchorena Palace (today owned by Foreign Ministry).
Then later you will visit one of the most lavishly decorated churches in Buenos Aires - Basilica of the Blessed Sacrament, and then read the strange story behind the origin of the Kavanagh Building.
We will shortly stop at the luxurious Marriott Plaza Hotel and end the walking tour next to the English Tower.
To continue the Buenos Aires walking tour please select:
To find out who was General José de San Martin and see the imposing monument glorifying his South-American achievements please click on the left picture or select the following link:
Monument to General Jose de San Martin (page 2)
To read the story of the Anchorenas - once the wealthiest and most influential dynasty in Argentina, make the tour of their beautiful mansion next to the Plaza San Martin and see it all on the pictures, please click on the left photo or select the link:
Plaza San Martin - Anchorena Palace (page 3)
To visit the most beautiful church in Buenos Aires - the Basilica of the Blessed Sacrament, church intended to be a “Tabernacle” of the city, the place of prayer and reconciliation, an oasis of silence and peace - please click on the left picture or select the link:
Basilica of the Blessed Sacrament (page 4)
To learn the story behind the construction of the Kavanagh Building (love, betrayal and "sweet revenge" by red-hair Irish girl Corina), see the pictures of this engineering marvel from the beginning of the 20th century, please click the left picture or select the link:
Kavanagh Building  (page 5)
To see the gift of British residents of Buenos Aires offered to the city for the celebration of the centenary of the Revolution of May let's walk towards the English Tower located across the street from the Plaza San Martin. Please click on the left picture of select the following link:
Best of Buenos Aires-English Tower (page 6)
Not sure yet where to go and what to see in Argentina? You may find help selecting: Tourist Destinations in Argentina
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Argentina Travel Tips
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