San Telmo is the old neighborhood in Buenos Aires best known for the antiques sold and tango danced in its Plaza Dorrego. For a long time now it has been a tourist destination for shopping and traditional dining, and currently, it is experiencing a real estate boom. San Telmo is becoming a popular alternative to Palermo. While Palermo Viejo has embraced modern design and hip couture and cuisine, San Telmo covets its 19th Century conventillos and resto-bars. San Telmo is traditional and decidedly Argentine. The barrio also has some great old-fashioned murals and graffiti that say a lot about its recent history.
The Spanish are said to have founded Buenos Aires here in San Telmo, where Park Lezama now stands. Altos de San Pedro Telmo, as the neighborhood was called in the 18th century, was home to Buenos Aires’ wealthy families. They built their mansions in the style of the French and Spanish – with courtyards and terraces and lengthy pasajes, courtyard passage ways, that often stretch through an entire city block.
In 1871 an outbreak of yellow fever killed thousands of city residents and the aristocrats fled to higher ground, making Recoleta their new home. They left their fine architecture behind, and newly arrived immigrants moved in, turning mansions into tenement housing – conventillos. Today, San Telmo is a middle-class neighborhood in flux, with many longtime residents being slowly priced out as foreign investment continues to reshape the city.
Antique shops and art galleries lure tourists in to comb San Telmo’s streets in search of bohemian works of art and European craftsmanship at Argentine prices. The Feria de Antiguedades, held Sundays in the plaza, draws the biggest crowds and as it closes up its booths for the day, the mid-day fair is replaced by an evening of tango in the square.
There’s live music in many of the bars surrounding Plaza Dorrego and candombe drummers often perform in the street with dancers or other musicians. San Telmo is home to a few boliches as well as the occasional underground party, organized with live music and a small cover. Those parties are less common since 2004, when a fire in a nightclub took the lives of close to 200 people.
The tragedy sparked awareness of fire hazards in venues and resulted in the commercialization of nightlife with big, expensive boliches as the popular destinations. A mural in Park Lezama behind the merry-go-round acts as memorial in a neighborhood full of history and where the writing’s on the walls.
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