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55km (34 miles) S of Buenos Aires

La Plata began its history with the unification of Argentina in 1880. The new nation's leaders decided that if Buenos Aires was to be the capital of the new country, then Buenos Aires province needed a new capital of its own. Thus was born La Plata, south of Buenos Aires along the Río de la Plata. Construction began in 1882. Many residents in La Plata claim it is the first planned city in Argentina, but this is a somewhat misleading claim considering how many cities the Spanish built long before La Plata was even a blueprint. The city is, however, the first planned city in unified Argentina, created after independence from Spain. Part of what will strike you about this metropolis is the large number of parks and plazas, as well as its diagonal streets that cut across the city, creating vista points and complex, confusing intersections. This urban pattern earned La Plata the nickname "The Checkerboard City." The town is centered on the enormous Plaza Moreno, defined by the cathedral and municipal palace that face each other across this vast grassy expanse. The city is also a quintessential college town, and home to the Universidad Nacional de La Plata (www.unlp.edu.ar), which has about 75,000 students, a very visible portion of the city's population. During the 1976-to-1982 Dirty War, many of its left-leaning students were targeted by the military dictatorship and disappeared. Today the school adds a young, casual vibe to the city.