To me, there is nothing quite like exploring an old building. There’s a reason I studied art history, after all, and that my favourite classes were on architecture. In Bologna, Italy, I climbed to the top of a medieval tower. In Lisbon, Portugal, I explored the ruins of an old cathedral. In France, of course I walked through Versailles and its stunning gardens. After all, visiting a historic building that was once witness to major historical events is even more exciting.
And better yet… how about a building that is still important and the working offices of the president of a nation? That, my friends, is the pinnacle of visits to historic places.
When I was in Buenos Aires in October, it was the weekend of the presidential election. Therefore, public tours of the Casa del Gobierno or Casa Rosada – the official offices of the President of Argentina – that are usually held on holidays and weekends were suspended. As I’m sure you can imagine, I was keen on visiting the interior of the majestic “pink house” during my second visit about a week and a half ago.
Unlike the U.S. White House, the president doesn’t actually live in the Casa Rosada. However, her working offices are located here, and she commutes by helicopter each day to perform her official duties.
We arrived on a rainy Saturday afternoon. Once in the building, visitors could wander in the beautiful atrium of the Casa Rosada, which houses a gallery of dozens of paintings that pay tribute to important leaders and figures in Argentinean and Latin American history. Visitors can also mingle with the dignified (and elaborately outfitted) presidential guards, who will gladly smile and pose for photographs.
We were led by a well-spoken tour guide around the many rooms that are open to the public. The interior architecture is stunning: a dignified mixture of classic Roman influences, Mediterranean tile floors, French marble staircases, even neo-gothic stained glass windows and doors… despite being witness to many turbulent political events and a key building in current political life in Argentina, the atmosphere of the building felt soothing and welcoming.
We were led through various galleries that paid tribute to prominent Argentineans, including a room with gorgeous paintings by famous Argentine artists depicting the various landscapes of the country, a long gallery that paid hommage to many of of the country’s musicians, actors, sports stars and performing artists, and a room dedicated to prominent scientists, academics and doctors. Visitors were allowed to step out on the iconic balcony where Eva and Juan Peron once addressed crowds (and, yes, where Madonna, in the mid-90s, was allowed to film that iconic scene for the movie Evita).
We visited a bright baroque-style room where the president takes the oath of office. Finally, we were allowed to step ever-so-briefly into the dignified presidential office. Seeing the desk and conference table where decisions are made every day was quite a special experience. Having recently read a biography of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, I particularly appreciated this visit to where the First Lady-turned-Presidenta works.
The tour ended with a climb down a staircase designed and gifted to Argentina by the French that resembled some of the marble staircases at the Louvre, and a peek into the plush presidential elevator. Interestingly, final stop of the visit was at the official entrance to the Casa Rosada. Most visitors assume that the front of the building – and most photographed side of the building – is the side that faces the Plaza de Mayo. This is where the balconies are located and visitors naturally tend to gather in the plaza. However, the front façade is around on the other side, built facing the port of the city.
Argentineans are particularly good at making me, a guest and outsider, feel very welcome in their country, and visiting the Casa Rosada was no different. I can’t think of a better way of learning a little more about the fascinating history of this country than to step into the iconic building.