Opened in 1906 after nearly 9 years of construction, and built in a Greco-Roman style with strong Parisian Beaux Arts influences, Congreso is the most imposing building in all of Buenos Aires. One of the main architects was Victor Meano, who was also involved in designing the Teatro Colón, but he was murdered before completion of either building. Congreso is constructed of Argentine gray granite, with walls more than 1 3/4m (5 3/4 ft.) wide at their base. Congreso is also the best example of the Argentine practice of taking architectural elements from famous buildings around the world. It resembles the U.S. Capitol, with a central dome also reminiscent of St. Peter's spreading over the two wings holding the bicameral legislative chambers. The ornamental bronze roofline also calls to mind Garnier's opera house, and the central pediment is topped by a Quadriga or Triumph carried by four horses that echoes Berlin's Brandenburg Gate. This sculpture was designed in Venice by artist Victor de Pol, took more than 4 years to make, weighs 20 tons, and was cast in Germany.
Tours take visitors through the fantastic chambers, adorned with bronze, statues, German tile floors, Spanish woods, and French marbles and lined with Corinthian columns. The horseshoe-shaped Congressional chamber is the largest, with the Senatorial chamber an almost identical copy but at one-fifth the size. The power of the Catholic Church is also evident in both chambers -- the archbishop has his own seat next to the president of either section of Congress and, though he has no voting power, is allowed to preside over all of the sessions. The old seats for representatives and senators have a form of electronic whoopee cushion -- simply by sitting down, attendance is taken based on the pressure of a politician's buttocks. The tour also takes you to the very pink Salón Rosado, now called the Salón Eva Perón. She opened this room after women received the right to vote, so that women politicians could sit without men around them to discuss feminist issues. Upon her death, Evita's body was temporarily placed under Congreso's central rotunda so that citizens could view her during the 2-week mourning period in 1952.
The building faces the Plaza Congreso, with its enormous fountain called the Dos Congresos. This multilevel confection of statues, horses, lions, condors, cherubs, and other ornaments has stairs leading to a good spot for photographing the Congreso. Unfortunately, the park became quite run-down over the years, with homeless encampments and graffiti. It was renovated in 2007 as part of the city's refurbishment in anticipation of the 2010 Bicentennial Independence celebrations, with new paving and cleaning and restoration of the fountain and other monuments. The gate surrounding the fountain is usually locked, but ask the guard if you can enter. Near the fountain, on the southeast corner of the intersection of Callao with Rivadavia, is Argentina's National AIDS Monument, a tiny concrete stub with a red ribbon.
For more on Congreso, visit the Congressional Library across the street and request the book El Congreso de la Nación Argentina by Manrique Zago, which provides rich detail in English and Spanish. Though both English and Spanish tours of Congreso are available, they are often subject to cancellation, depending on functions occurring in the building. Plus, English-speaking tour guides aren't always available, in spite of the schedule. Entrance is usually through the Rivadavia side of the building, but can switch to the Yrigoyen doors, so arrive early and let the guards know that you are there. Guides will not be called down unless they know people are waiting. This is an incredible building and worth the confusion. Its beauty also speaks for itself, even if you have to take the Spanish tour and don't know a word.