Plaza Lavalle & the Tribunales Area
Getting There: Take the metro to Tribunales.
Start: Teatro Cervantes, overlooking Plaza Lavalle.
Time: 1 1/2 hours; 3 to 4 hours if you go inside all buildings mentioned.
Best Times: Monday through Saturday between 11am and 4pm (not at night when things are closed).
Plaza Lavalle has been in disrepair for a long time, but the area is receiving a face-lift that should be completed for the 2010 Bicentennial celebrations. As such, some of the buildings in the area might be in scaffolding while you are visiting. The area represents the heart of the country's judicial system, taking its name from the Supreme Court, or Tribunales Building, which is the focus of the plaza. This was also one of the city's main theater districts before the widening of Avenida Corrientes in the 1930s. Teatro Cervantes and the world-famous Teatro Colón testify to this thespian grandeur. This tour is an easy walk and sidewalks are wheelchair-accessible.
Start at the northeast corner of Libertad, where it hits Córdoba, at the:
1. Teatro Nacional Cervantes
This theater, which opened in the 1920s, was the project of Spanish actors working in Buenos Aires. It went bankrupt, was bought by the government, and has since become a national theater. It is designed in a Spanish Imperial style with the Habsburg double eagles as its main decoration on the outside of the building. The sumptuous interior uses materials from Spain, such as imported carved-wood ornamentation and colorful Seville tiles, on many of the walls and surfaces.
Standing on Córdoba with the Teatro Cervantes behind you, cross Córdoba and walk along Libertad, stopping one building in at Libertad 785, site of the:
2. Templo Libertad & Jewish History Museum
This Byzantine-style temple was constructed in 1897 by CIRA (Congregación Israelita de la República de Argentina). Next-door, you'll find the Jewish Museum, also known as the Kibrick Museum, which contains religious and historical items related to Buenos Aires's Jewish community.
Continue to walk south along Libertad and cross Calle Viamonte. Stop at Libertad 621, between Viamonte and Tucumán, to see the:
3. Teatro Colón
The Teatro Colón first opened in 1908, and it took more than 18 years to build, largely because of the dramatic tragedies that befell its various architects, especially Víctor Meano, who was murdered in a love triangle. Materials for the theater came from all over Europe, and the building functioned as Buenos Aires's aria to the world, proving that it was a city of culture to be reckoned with. Unfortunately, in a modern tragedy worthy of its own stage production, the much-touted multimillion-dollar renovation of the theater, intended to show it off for its 100th anniversary, went completely wrong. As of this writing, the theater remains in scaffolding, nowhere near finished, and the money for it somehow has mysteriously been spent. While a new completion date is set for mid-2010, its current condition means that date is unrealistic. If and when the renovation is completed, tours and a show are a must while you are in Buenos Aires. But if you're on this walk and the building is open, don't delay going inside, where you'll be able to see marble from all over the world lining the lobby and making up the grand staircase; the wooden and bronze seating area, which soars five levels to an immense chandelier; as well as the underground storage and practice areas where ballerinas practice.
Continue walking along Libertador and cross Calle Tucumán, stopping at the building on the corner, at Calle Libertad 581, site of the:
4. Escuela Presidente Roca
The employees of this beautiful 1904 Greek revival structure note that people often wander in thinking it's the Teatro Colón. And it's no wonder, with its Doric colonnade and ornamental statues along the central pediment, but this is actually a local school. Technically, it's not open to the public, but polite people will be allowed in the courtyard and maybe even upstairs to see the beautiful ceiling with painted acanthus leaves.
Turn around so that the Escuela Presidente Roca is to your back, and face Plaza Libertad. Head to the column in the center of the plaza, the:
5. Lavalle Monument
Juan Lavalle fought along with San Martín in the wars for independence as a very young man and continued in the Argentine military, becoming a general. His statue, on a slender column, is the main focus of the center of this plaza. Wander around the plaza, though, and take a look at the various other monuments. Be aware that an underground parking garage was built under the plaza, so you have to watch out for cars, especially at the corner of Libertad and Tucumán, where the entry ramp is located. The plaza, like many in Buenos Aires, is often taken over by protestors who come to make their views known to the people in the next building on this tour. You will sometimes see their camps here.
From the center of the plaza, face west, toward the Supreme Court building, an enormous structure on the southwest corner of the plaza, also known as:
6. Tribunales (Palacio de la Justicia)
The Tribunales neighborhood takes its name from this building: the Supreme Court, or Tribunales building (also called the Palacio de la Justicia). It is immense and hulking, with strong Greek elements. The facade was cleaned and restored in 2008, though the sides of the building somehow were overlooked in the process. If you are here during the day, try to enter. It used to be fully open to the public, but due to the peso crisis and numerous protests, police barricades often surround it; try to look like you have a reason to enter the building and you'll have a better chance of getting in. Inside, the central courtyard is lined with columns and pilasters. Ornamentation on the walls and between the columns includes symbols imitating the smiling sun from the center of the Argentine flag.
Turn your back to the Supreme Court building and walk along the edge of the plaza in an eastern direction. Look to your right at the edge of the plaza toward the pedestrianized section of Diagonal Norte, also known as Avenida Roque Sáenz Peña, with a vista to Avenida 9 de Julio and the:
The Obelisco was inaugurated in 1936 and built to honor the 400th anniversary of the first (unsuccessful) founding of the city by Pedro de Mendoza. (The second, permanent, founding was in 1580.) This towering 68m (223 ft.) structure marks the intersection of Avenida 9 de Julio and Corrientes. Diagonal Norte stretches behind the Obelisco, which links to the Plaza de Mayo to its south and to the Tribunales, or Supreme Court, to its north. The Obelisco sits in the oval Plaza de República, all of which was once the site of Iglesia de San Nicolás where the Argentine flag was first displayed on August 23, 1812, in Buenos Aires shortly after independence from Spain. This church, of course, was demolished to create the city's most iconic symbol, but an inscription on the north side of the Obelisco honors its noble sacrifice.
This pedestrianized area of Diagonal Norte is lined with cafes and little restaurants, so take a break here if you like. Otherwise, walk up toward the Obelisco itself. If Argentina has won an international event, join the flag-waving crowds here and cheer on the country. Underneath the Obelisco, you have access to three subway lines (B, C, and D), so it is easy to get back to hotels in many parts of the city from here.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.