Córdoba City

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Most of Córdoba city’s tourist sites can be visited in one afternoon and on foot. President Sarmiento once said that Córdoba has more churches than houses; that statement appears to be true with an ornate cathedral seemingly around every corner.

Plaza San Martín

Begin your walk at Plaza San Martín Square, home to a small fair, the Jesuit Cathedral and the Cabildo (colonial government house). There is also a monument to San Martín, and benches under lovely trees. The cathedral has an altar made of stone and silver from Potosí; every ornament is made of gold and the ceiling is painted with different Biblical scenes[3].

 Plaza Italia

Continue on to Plaza Italia, where a bizarre fountain celebrates Argentina’s link with Italy. Three large concrete structures drain into a central, abstract “fountain” (dry at the time I visited). The main concrete structure is decorated with a relief carving of Romulus and Remus – founders of Rome – nursing at Mama Wolf. If nothing else, the fountain makes for great photographs.

Leaving the plaza you’ll cross a small river with overhanging trees. If you’re used to the hustle and bustle of Buenos Aires, this peaceful waterway will seem like paradise. There are plenty of plazas to explore throughout Córdoba. On sunny days, they’re the perfect place to relax by a fountain. Scattered around the city, they generally have a monument (to the Malvinas War, to native cultures, etc.), plenty of benches and lots of greenery. One particularly odd plaza has a black-glass building ostensibly dedicated to “Intelligent Stoplights and Traffic Control.”

On your walk you’ll discover plenty of cathedrals, a dentist’s office named after Evita, charming gated patios of private homes, university buildings and bougainvillea-lined pedestrian walkways.

Parque Sarmiento

This large park is within walking distance of the city center, and is the place to hang out on weekends or holidays. Choripan stands offer an abundance of toppings (including spicy toppings!) and even in chilly May, ice cream stands are popular. Wandering through the park will take you to the Isla Encantada, a small island surrounded by what is essentially a moat for paddle boats and past a rose garden and amusement park.

Jesuit Block and Estancias

This block has the main buildings of the former Jesuit Province of Paraguay, and has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site[4]. These buildings include the University of Córdoba, the church and residence of the Society of Jesus, and the Monserrat secondary school. According to the World Heritage Site, the University is one of the oldest in South America.

Along with this “block” in the city, the Jesuits also operated six estancias, or ranches, around Córdoba province – Caroya, Jesús María, Santa Catalina, Alta Gracia, Candelaria and San Ignacio. Today, these estancias are open for visits, and the Córdoba tourism office organizes a tour called the Camino de las Estancias Jesuíticas[5]. The camino is about 250 km.

The complexes were started in 1599 when the Jesuits arrived in Córdoba and began to develop their religious mission through schools, with estancias to support them. In 1767 the Jesuits were expelled from the continent; when they returned in 1853 the complexes were run by Franciscans. The University of Córdoba and the secondary school were nationalized soon after.

Córdoba Zoo

The zoo’s location is amazing, and is apparently a great example of 19th century zoo architecture. There are lots of curving stairways through lush vegetation that revealed hidden enclosures. Unfortunately, the standard of living for the animals appeared to be stuck in the 19th century, along with the architecture. Do NOT visit zoos in non-first-world countries unless you hate animals or want to be depressed. On weekends the zoo is crowded with families and couples. Posted next to the majority of the cages were large signs asking people not to feed the animals because they could get serious illnesses. These signs were being completely ignored by people throwing popcorn to the poor monkeys, big cats and other assorted creatures.

The zoo does have some interesting animals unique to Argentina, and it’s like a scavenger hunt trying to: 1) find the animals because the map is somewhat misleading, and 2) figure out what the animals are based on their Spanish names. Turns out a lechuza is an adorable miniature owl. Puercoespinas are a variety of porcupine. And on and on. It’s also interesting to notice the zoo safety measures, or lack thereof. The hippopotamus provides a case in point: Hippos are some of the most dangerous animals in Africa. They are aggressive, fast, large and have incredibly strong jaws. Ergo, not animals you want zoo visitors to be able to reach in and pet. Surprisingly enough, the Córdoba zoo has no qualms about displaying a hippo in a pool behind a waist-high railing that a child or drunk show-off could easily climb into.

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