Plaza del Congreso - the walking tour provides some facts from the history of the National Congress, Monumento a dos Congresos, sculpture of "The Thinker" (Rodin), coffeehouse El Molino, shares spirit of Gaudi and more, all with pictures.
Plaza del Congreso (Buenos Aires): History and facts
For those who attracted by the legendary Casa Rosada visited the Plaza de Mayo, taking a walk along the Avenida de Mayo to its opposite end opening on the Plaza del Congreso seems to be a natural way of events.
In fact, the prestigious Avenida de Mayo was especially designed to link these two important squares housing Argentinean executive (Pink House) and legislative (Congress) powers.
I wouldn’t speculate if such arrangement where the two centers of power can keep “an open eye on each other” has some practical advantage.
Instead let’s focus on historical facts and architectural beauty of the place commonly called - Plaza del Congreso.
Occupying almost seven hectares the plaza is the largest “greenish” area in the heart of Buenos Aires. Actually the whole square is composed of three plazas (although the partition is not obvious). The biggest one is the Plaza del Congreso, but substantial part of the square have the name “Plaza Mariano Moreno” and the smallest (and oldest one) holds the name Plaza Lorea.
Plaza Congreso Buenos Aires - View on the Plaza del Congreso and its surroundings
16 - Palacio Barolo
17 - La Immobiliara
18 - Plaza Lorea
19 - Monumento a los dos Congresos
20 - National Congress
Source: Buenos Aires Ciudad - Office of Tourism
View on the Plaza del Congreso, Plaza Moreno and Plaza Lorea from the top of the Palacio Barolo.
Today it may be hard to believe that almost until the end of 19th century most of the neighboring area was occupied by a small lake draining the waters of a Matorras creek, a windmill and an elevated water tank for the distribution of the water in the city. “Things” drastically changed in the last decade of the 19th century with opening of the Avenida de Mayo in 1894 and inauguration of the Congress Building in 1906.
To beautify the neighborhood, in 1908 the government adopted the plan to create a large park in front of the legislature. Under the direction of Carlos Thays the existing Plaza Lorea was extended westward providing the space for the future memorial commemorating the foundation of Argentina. The newly designed plaza wisely preserved part of the existing wooden areas adding to the landscape modern gardens, sculptures and monuments. It was completed in 1910 and officially inaugurated on May 25 of that year – the 100th anniversary of the Revolution of May.
The central monument called “Monumento a los dos Congresos” was completed in 1914 giving the final shape to the Plaza of Congress but also creating confusion (some mistakenly call this plaza as “Plaza de los dos Congresos”).
In 1997 the entire square including Plaza del Congreso, Plaza Moreno, Plaza Lorea and surroundings was declared a national historic site, protecting it from any future modifications.
The building of the National Congress is one of the best examples of neoclassical architecture in Buenos Aires. The imposing structure located at the west end of the Plaza del Congreso was designed by an Italian architect Vittorio Meano (also the leading architect for the project of the nearby Teatro Colon).
The construction work started in August 1887 and was continued for almost 20 years with usual for such monumental projects budget overruns and misfortunes. The tragic moment was marked by the death of V. Meano murdered by his butler John Passera (presumably lover of his wife). Subsequently, the construction work was completed by the Belgian architect Julio Dormal. The opening ceremony in the presence of then President of Argentina José Figueroa Alcorta was held on May 12, 1906.
Well, so far it all sounds as almost typical story for fist pages of newspapers. But the true story of this engineering and architectural marvel, partially visible from the outside, but mostly hidden “behind the walls” wouldn’t be complete if finished here.
The official opening ceremony did not mark the end of construction, in fact modifications and finishing works were continued over the next 40 years with the final touch – external cladding protecting the curved wall of the Senate Hall (on the Calle Riobamba side) was finished in 1946. The final cost of the complex by far exceeded the initial budget.
But the truth is that the Buenos Aires’ Palace of Congress is a real masterpiece – combining architect’s artistic vision and imagination with impressive engineering skills and generous decorative art. For some observers this monumental structure shows similarities to the US Capitol (dome and wings), others may see roofline resembling that of the Opera House in Paris, and finally some may claim that horses topping the building are straight from the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.
But that is all part of eclecticism gaining momentum in Buenos Aires at the turn of the century. Elements of Greco-Roman styles (colonnades, caryatides, triangular tympanum, dome… etc) mixed with strong influence of Italian and French architectural and artistic trends refined by an “Argentinean touch” and equally important - generously supported by one of the wealthiest societies at that time changed Buenos Aires’ cityscape forever. The Palace of Congress is just one of many examples of eclectic architecture visible on the streets of the Capital Federal of Argentina.
The frontal facades finished with grey Uruguayan granite and limestone from Cordoba reach the height of 27 meters. The central egg-shaped dome covered by green patina raises 80 meters above the street level (from the engineering point of view equally remarkable must be the supporting structure holding this approximately 30,000 tons heavy load).
For years the Congreso’s dome was the highest point of the city (slightly exceeded by the tower of El Molino opened in 1917 and by 100 meters tall Palacio Barollo inaugurated in 1923).
The official entrance to the building is from the Avenida Entre Rios (Plaza del Congreso side). The entrance covered by an immense triangular tympanum supported by six Corinthian columns leads through the doors “protected” by two caryatides into the “Salon Azul” (Blue Hall) located under the central dome. Initially the main entrance to the Congress was decorated with four allegoric sculptures by famous Argentinean women-sculptor Dolores Mora Vega (known as Lola Mora). The naked human bodies symbolizing Peace, Justice, Liberty and Progress represented the artistic trends of the “époque” but unfortunately they did not withstand the puritan morality of those times (similarly like other famous group of sculptures by Lola Mora – “Nereid’s Fountain”). Subsequently in 1916 they were removed from the entrance to the National Congress (these days they decorate the Government House in San Salvador de Jujuy in north-western Argentina).
Homage to the legislators murdered during the period of Dirty Wars.
Original text: Honorable Camara de Diputados de la Nacion
On the top of four corners of the Congress’s complex there are bronze figures representing winged Victories. Each of them holds a branch of olive in one hand and is accompanied by a child with lighted torch symbolizing this way a “time for peace following the battle” (unfortunately symbols rarely have an impact on the reality).
Behind the tympanum there is a large platform holding a chariot drawn by four horses abreast (Heroic Quadriga) driven by the Winged Victory holding the branch of laurel in the right hand. It symbolizes the young country arising from the colonial past and moving forward towards the democracy to fulfill the will and aspirations of the nation. The 20 tons Quadriga cast in bronze is a work of the Italian sculptor Victor Pol.
The copper and patina covered dome is supported by a circular structure with Doric columns and four smaller versions of the main entrance tympanum. At night the dome is illuminated giving it a profile of the star beautifully adding to the anyhow spectacular Buenos Aires’ skyline.