San Telmo, in Buenos Aires, is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in the city. There you can recognize buildings that have been part of the history of the city and whose architecture is worthy of admiration.
For several decades, the neighbourhood of San Telmo has been a very popular place, known for its cultural spaces, restaurants, bars and markets. Thousands of foreign visitors, students who have travelled to learn spanish argentina and porteños citizens visit, every week, this neighbourhood with cobbled and picturesque streets to spend a nice day outdoors. There are also many antique stores, one of the great attractions of the neighbourhood.
However, although San Telmo receives so many tourists year after year, not many people know about its history… not for nothing has it earned the title of the oldest neighbourhood in the city. That is why in this article we will tell you all about this emblematic neighbourhood of Buenos Aires.
The history of San Telmo
The origin of the San Telmo neighbourhood dates back to the 17th century, when the city of Buenos Aires began to expand. Thus, this southern neighbourhood was populated.
At first, the neighbourhood was called Altos de San Pedro, after a small group of inhabitants who worked in the port. Little by little the neighbourhood prospered and grew more and more, until it became the place where the most important families of the city lived.
However, in 1871, a great epidemic of yellow fever caused most of these families to leave their homes. Thus, a great exodus was generated that left most of the large houses empty. Year after year, these abandoned houses were occupied by immigrant families, turning what was once an area of high-society residences into an area of tenements.
Today, this neighbourhood still preserves buildings from the XVII, XIX and XX centuries, where the typical architecture of the time can be observed. Therefore, San Telmo preserves a great part of the cultural and historical heritage of the city.
As you walk through San Telmo’s starry cobblestone streets you can see colonial-style houses with large wrought iron railings, and also several buildings of various styles including English, French and art nouveau (due to the large migratory flow that took place in the neighbourhood over the years).
This is how San Telmo was transformed into a multicultural neighbourhood. Then, in the mid-twentieth century all kinds of artists began to arrive, causing the neighbourhood to acquire a bohemian air and establishing it as a meeting point to enjoy tango.
Due to its long history, San Telmo is a very attractive place to visit; a place to observe part of the history of the city and to enjoy the bohemian atmosphere, tango and culture.
What can you see and do in the oldest district of the city?
San Telmo is located in the heart of the city of Buenos Aires, and every weekend one of the most popular open-air markets is held there. Tourists and locals alike love to walk around this neighbourhood, with narrow streets full of old buildings and houses (some in ruins), restaurants, cafes, bars, antique shops, bakeries and much more.
On weekends there are fairs and open-air markets, where you can enjoy street art and one of the typical dances; tango. This is a neighborhood that tourists and foreign students who decided to travel in order to learn spanish argentina, cannot miss! It is really one of the must-see attractions of the city.
Every Sunday an open-air market is held on the cobblestone streets of the neighborhood. There, artisans, antique vendors and artists sell their wares.
The Sunday market is really picturesque and fun; you can see street performers such as mimes, musicians, clowns, puppeteers and dancers.
Located in the center of San Telmo is Parque Lezama; a beautiful and quiet green space that allows visitors to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and is also one of the most popular meeting points.
Near this park is the National Historical Museum (where you can learn about the Lezama family) and the Russian Orthodox Church, known for its beautiful blue domes.
Enjoy the tango
The neighborhood of San Telmo carries the rhythm of tango; it is very common to see spontaneous milongas (dance sessions) among the neighbors, and to observe couples of trained tango dancers dancing in the streets. This is extremely attractive, especially for tourists, who stay to watch the free show.
One thing is for sure, beyond the tango and the milongas that are danced in the street (which do not always happen), San Telmo is the right place in the city to go to see or dance this traditional rhythm, as there are many establishments where you can enjoy a good dinner and a show of the best tango.
Visit the open-air markets and antique shops
As mentioned above, every Sunday there are markets on the streets of the neighborhood. These markets are like a kind of fair; many stalls, side by side, selling handicrafts, antiques, drawings, paintings, art, leather goods, Buenos Aires souvenirs and many other curiosities.
Walking through all the stalls can take hours, but it is a really pleasant walk, as you can always hear tango music in the background and smell the Argentinean gastronomy in the air.
In San Telmo, you will find historic cafes and many notable and locally recognized restaurants and bars.
San Telmo offers cafes on practically every corner, many of them with hundreds of years of history. Their floors and openings show their advanced age, and give the atmosphere a style that is hard to find anywhere else. Best of all, they are usually open at least 20 hours a day.
In addition, of course, we cannot forget to mention the classic Argentinian “parrillas”. Restaurants that are dedicated to serve the best “asados”, a very important type of meal for Argentines, since it not only means a meal but also a social gathering. In San Telmo you can find excellent parrillas that serve top-quality meats.