San Telmo: historic neighborhood in Buenos Aires
May 24, 2019
by Mariela Pascuzzo
No one should leave Buenos Aires without visiting the historic neighborhood of San Telmo in the southern area of the city, which still maintains the essence of its years of splendor and charm: cobbled pavements, narrow sidewalks, and classic-style buildings. Wandering around its streets is an undeniable and unforgettable trip to the past, where visitors can really feel they are traveling back in time to the colonial Buenos Aires while enjoying the dichotomy between modern and old times.
History of San Telmo
San Telmo was named after San Pedro Telmo Church, which was built after the foundation of the city in 1580. The wealthiest families of the colony settled down in this area and built aristocratic style houses which are still well-preserved due to the compliance of legislation intended to protect historic buildings. Nowadays, the constructions are a reminiscence of the flourishing city that Buenos Aires used to be from the beginning of the 19th century until the first decades of the 20th century. Visitors can imagine the members of the aristocratic families that inhabited the area going out from their houses dressed in fine expensive imported clothes or traveling on their carriages.
However, the opulence of the neighborhood vanished as a yellow fever epidemic, the strongest suffered in Buenos Aires, hit the southern area in 1871 and forced the families to move and leave their luxurious residences abandoned. The houses were soon occupied by poor people and turned into tenements or “conventillos”, as they are frequently referred to in the Spanish variety spoken along the Río de la Plata.
San Telmo’s location
As previously mentioned, San Telmo is located in the southern part of the city. It is a ten-minute walk from the House of Government in Plaza de Mayo. It is also easy and economically convenient to arrive by public transportation as there exist many buses going along the main avenues surrounding the area.
San Telmo´s main attractions
Location: Calle Defensa and Humberto Primo
Plaza Dorrego is one of the oldest squares in Buenos Aires. It is smaller than the great majority of squares in the city but not less attractive. It is located in Defensa street, where the largest number of antiques shops, restaurants, and cafés lie. In the past, it used to be an obligatory stop for horse-drawn carriages traveling to the south. On Sundays, a large number of visitors come to the square to visit the famous flea market where you can find from antiques to paintings and photographs.
Mercado de San Telmo
Location: Calle Defensa 693
This market is one of the most interesting places to visit in the neighborhood. It opened on 14 February 1891 and was an important trade center for the southern area of the city. In the past, there were a lot of stalls where people could buy meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, flowers, and bread, among others. As time passed by, it started to lose popularity and the building structure remained in poor condition for decades. Fortunately, it has been recently restored and it looks really fantastic. Nowadays, it is a melting pot where visitors can find a considerable number of stalls selling international or regional dishes at reasonable prices. Visitors who want to try Argentinian typical food do not leave the place without trying the empanadas, eating a choripan or drinking a glass of home brew beer or Malbec wine. In spite of the restoration, the place still maintains some antique shops that sell a wide variety of items such as porcelain dolls, haberdashery products, crockery, cutlery, and record players.
In the intersection of Defensa and Chile, visitors can find the sculpture of Mafalda with her friends. The place belongs to an itinerary called “Paseo de la Historieta” (Comic Tour Itinerary). Quino, Mafalda’s cartoonist, lived in Chile 371 where he created the comic’s characters.
- “Casa mínima”, the smallest house in the city
Location: Pasaje San Lorenzo 380, San Telmo.
There are no doubts that Casa Mínima attracts people’s attention due to its tiny dimensions: 2.5 m width and 13 m long. Due to its size, the house is considered the narrowest house in the City.
- Nuestra Señora de Belén Church and San Pedro González Telmo Parrish
Location: Humberto 1º 340
Blanqui and Premoli, both Jesuits, designed the church and built it in 1736. When Charles III, King of Spain, cast out the Jesuits from America, the church was abandoned for a long time. Years later, the Bethlemitas fathers took responsibility for the church. It is possible to appreciate San Pedro, San Juan and San Ignacio’s sculptures in the front of the building.
It is a traditional two-story house built during 1880 that belonged to the Ezeiza, a well-off and distinguished family of those times. The house has many rooms, all connected to a lateral corridor. There are three patios on the ground floor: the Time Patio (Patio del Tiempo), the Tree Patio (Patio del Árbol) and the Ezeiza’s Patio (El Patio de los Ezeiza). There is only one patio on the first floor. For many years, the place was turned into a school for deaf-mutes. It was not until 1981 that the site reopened as a commercial gallery and the old rooms are now shops selling antiques, clothes, paintings, crafts, and souvenirs. Many people argue about the building’s general condition but although the place deserves being restored, it is really worth visiting.
Weekdays vs Weekends
In spite of being settled near the heart of the capital city, San Telmo is quite a peaceful neighborhood during weekdays. On Sundays, cars are not allowed in the area and the narrow cobbled streets become a pedestrian open-air market with hundreds of stalls selling from crafts to expensive antiques. A walk around Dorrego Square is a must for visitors who want to admire the famous flea market settled at weekends.
Day vs Night
A day stroll around San Telmo streets offers the possibility to admire and appreciate its architecture, the antique shops, and boutiques. At night, the pubs, cafes and iconic tanguerias offer a wide array of entertainments that attract multitudes.
It is important to highlight that the open-air market and the car restriction is only on Sundays.