This complex, energetic, and seductive port city stretches south-to-north along the Rio de la Plata, a city-plan mosaic as varied and diverse as its culture. The city, like Paris to which it is often compared, is composed of many small neighborhoods, some grand with monumental structures and others known by their corner market and puppet stand. Glass-sheathed skyscrapers cast their slender shadows on 19th century Victorian houses while tango bars hazed with the piquant tang of cigar smoke face dusty, treasure-filled antique shops across the way.The city’s neighborhoods are small and highly individualized, each with its own characteristic colors and forms. In the San Telmo district, the city’s multinational heritage is embodied in a varied and cosmopolitan architecture– Spanish Colonial design couples with Italian detailing and graceful French Classicism. La Boca’s pressed tin houses are painted a rainbow of colors, and muralists have turned the district’s side-streets into avenues of color.
Portenos, as the multinational people of Buenos Aires are known, possess an elaborate and rich cultural identity. They value their European heritage highly–Italian and German names outnumber Spanish, and the lifestyle and architecture are markedly more European than any other in South America. One of the world’s finest opera houses, the Teatro Colon, flourishes here on the plains alongside the river.
For all its diversity, the elusive spirit of Argentina as a country is present everywhere in Buenos Aires. The national dance, the tango, is perhaps the best expression of that spirit–practiced in dance halls, parks, open plazas, and ballrooms, it is a dance of intimate separation and common rhythm, combining both an elegant reserve and an exuberant passion.