Many people pass by this massive, high Victorian structure on Avenida Córdoba in Barrio Norte and stop in wonder. This is Buenos Aires's Water Palace, a fantastic structure of more than 300,000 lustrous, multicolored faience bricks made by Royal Doulton and shipped from Britain. Its original interior engineering components were made in various countries, largely Belgium. Originally, the Water Palace was meant to be a humble building, constructed in response to the yellow fever epidemic that hit San Telmo and other areas of Buenos Aires in 1877. In the days before plumbing, drinking water was held in collecting pools in individual homes, which spread the disease. Alarmed, the city began looking for a spot to construct new, sanitary facilities to prevent another outbreak. This was the highest point in the city, meaning water stored here could flow through pipes to the city's residences using only the force of gravity.
However, two events changed the plans, resulting in the 1887 building seen here now. First, Buenos Aires was made the capital of Argentina in 1880, and the city planners felt the building must not only serve a purpose but also reflect the glory of the new nation. (Still, Argentina did not have the technology, hence the need for foreign help.) In addition, the yellow fever epidemic itself meant that the area surrounding this location was filling up with new mansions of wealthy families fleeing San Telmo. The water purification building not only had to fit into its surroundings, it had to outshine them.
The engineering works have been removed, and the building is now the headquarters of the water company Aguas Argentinas. It also contains one of the most unusual museums in the whole city, one kids will get a kick out of. Explaining the history of water sanitation, this museum is home to hundreds of toilets spanning the decades. Faucets and giant sewer pipes are also on display.