La Boca, Barrio de Buenos Aires
Literally ‘the mouth’, La Boca is a distinctive barrio (district) to the south of central Buenos Aires. It is close to the mouth of the river Riachuelo, and was an important port during the city’s boom period.
Today, it is no longer an active port – the majority of freight now passes through either Retiro to the north or Dock Sud to the south. Instead, it is a popular tourist area, with restaurants, arts and crafts stalls, tango shows and folklore/traditional dancing. The main tourist area is quite small (just a few blocks) and is focussed around Caminito, a pedestrianised street lined with brightly painted houses.
The area retains, or has restored, many of its original features including houses made of chapas (sheets of metal, or corrugated iron) and streets lined with adoquínes (setts or cobbles), and parts of the tram/train lines from the docks.
Conventillos (lit. little convents) are houses with a communal kitchen and washing areas. Today, one of the best preserved/restored is filled with tourist shops. Partly due to the poor construction of the original buildings, with corrugated iron and wooden houses, there have been a number of fires in the area; La Boca was also the location of the first volunteer fire service in the city.
Houses were painted with whatever was left over from the boats that docked in the port. Which may explain why the houses were different colours, with just enough paint for one wall or a roof at a time. The painted houses themselves are now part of the attraction and character of the area and more recently (post-2000?) the kerb-stones themselves have been painted by local school-children.
The port brought many Spanish and Italian immigrants who settled and worked in the area. Many of them arrived from Genoa in Italy, and football was a popular sport for immigrants.
Even today, one of the names for the hinchada (fans) of the local football club is Xeneizes, which means people from Genoa and comes directly from the Italian Genovese dialect (rather than genoveses as it would be in Spanish).
Benito Quinquela Martín (1890 – 1977)
One of La Boca’s most famous residents was the artist Quinquela Martín, and there is a statue of him near the entrance to caminito. He dedicated much of his life to the area and painted many pictures of the port area and encouraged locals to paint their houses in bright colours to liven up the area.
He also founded a children’s dentist and local school, which is also a museum of his work. For more information about his story, check out Welcome Argentina’s page.
Puente Transbordador (Transporter Bridge)
A frequent subject of Quinquela Martín’s paintings was the Puente transbordador, a bridge linking Buenos Aires to La Isla Maciel. Since the port is no longer active, the bridge was due to be demolished. Due to its cult status and historical significance, the locals have (so far) successfully campaigned to save it. Actual traffic now runs along the Puente Nicolás Avellaneda, which links to the barrio of the same name.
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Have you been to La Boca? What did you notice while you were there? Let us know in the comments below.