Buenos Aires is one of South America’s most magnificent metropolises. We all know about its exquisite art-nouveau architecture, its unrivaled cultural scene and the first rate restaurants and nightlife. But there are a few quirky facts that are unbeknownst to most travelers and are truly unique to the city. Here’s our list of 10 weird things you didn’t know about Buenos Aires.
Its most visited attraction is a graveyard
Forget about the big avenue, that fancy theater or the pink government palace, the most visited attraction in Buenos Aires is actually a graveyard. Founded in 1822, Recoleta Cemetery is built like a city, featuring large square “blocks” with tree lined avenues that span a total of 14 acres and include some 5,000 different mausoleums. The spectacular cemetery houses some of the country’s most beloved icons, including presidents, Nobel prize winners, military commanders and the much idolized Eva Peron, whose immaculate mausoleum is the most impressive of the vicinity. Recoleta is so awe-inspiring that the BBC and CNN declared it among the most beautiful cemeteries in the world.
With a whopping 734 bookstores – or around 25 per 100,000 inhabitants – Buenos Aires has the highest number of bookshops per capita in the world. Argentinians really love to read, a tradition that has been eagerly adopted from their European ancestors and is evident in the mind boggling variety of bookstores on offer. Places range from intimate and homely boutique stores to huge, elegant emporiums like Ateneo Grand Splendid, which doubles as one of the city’s most interesting tourist attractions.
The gigantic Avenida 9 de Julio tears right through the heart of downtown Buenos Aires, serving as an essential artery to distribute traffic through the city center. This mammoth road is a staggering 460 feet (140 meters) wide and is comprised of a whopping 22 lanes. It really is a sight to behold when the entire avenue is bumper to bumper with snarling traffic during the rush hour commute.
Right in the middle of Avenida 9 de Julio is the city’s most recognizable landmark, the iconic Obelisco. This giant 67-meter (220-foot) structure was built in 1936 to commemorate 400 years since the city’s foundation. Given its obvious phallic symbolism, in 2005 it was decided it would be the perfect place to erect the world’s largest condom to promote World AIDS Day.
People in Buenos Aires really love their furry companions. In fact, the city boasts the highest percentage of pets per capita in the world. Dogs are particularly popular, with an incredible 60 percent of households owning at least one. Thankfully, locals prefer to adopt their pets rather than purchase them from breeders which leads to a surprisingly low occurrence of strays. Keep an eye out for professional dog walkers who chaperone 10 or more canines at a time through the city’s wealthier neighborhoods.
Buenos Aires is renowned for its high culture, not least of which is the stylish and sexy dance known as Tango. What many don’t know is that Tango actually originated from the city’s seedy brothels, with its seductive moves thought to have portrayed the interactions between a pimp and a prostitute. A French-Argentine singer named Carlos Gardel exported the dance to France where it became widely popular and earned a more sophisticated reputation.
Buenos Aires is one of the most soccer mad cities on Earth. Local teams Boca Juniors and River Plate are among the most popular in the entire continent, enticing scores of passionate fans to travel great distances to see them play. But the country’s national sport is actually called pato (duck), a game similar to polo where riders use their hands instead of sticks. It has been played by gauchos since the 1600s and was granted the official title in 1953 by then president Juan Perón. Back in the old days, the contestants played with a live duck in a cage which has thankfully been replaced by a ball.
There is certainly no taboo about going to see a shrink in this modern metropolis. With one psychologist per 500 people, the inhabitants of Buenos Aires are the most ready adopters of psychiatric services in the world. This is not believed to be a result of a higher rate of mental illness (though some might beg to differ), rather that the practice is more normalized here than in other societies.
Meaning “Pink House” in English, Casa Rosada is the famous presidential palace that forms part of any downtown walking tour. This iconic building became cemented in national history when Juan Perón, accompanied by his wife Eva, addressed a crowd who had rallied in their hundreds of thousands to demand his release. However, a lesser known part of its history is why the house was painted pink in the first place. One theory is that two important political parties with the colors white and red were united there in the 19th century, while another suggests that the building was originally painted in cow’s blood which was common back in the day as an effective insulator against heat and humidity.
Many people consider Buenos Aires to be the Paris of the South and it’s not hard to see why after spending a few days in this elegant city. Buenos Aires boasts stunning architecture in an array of old world styles, a refined cultural scene, a cosmopolitan European atmosphere with countless vibrant cafés as well as an abundance of romantic places to explore with that special someone.