Monday, December 17, 2012

Ten Cities 1) Buenos Aires

Becket, December 17, 2012

At the beginning of the 18th century Buenos Aires--originally named after the virgin of the "Fair Winds" venerated by sailors--was little more than a backwater of the Spanish colonies in the American continent.  Established as a defensive outpost against Portuguese advances, its main economic engine was large scale contraband.  The arrival of the first Viceroy of the Río de la Plata was still more than half a century away.

A 1713 map shows the grid of square blocks established by the founder of the city, Juan de Garay, in 1580.  It's located along the coast of the Río de la Plata and centered between two creeks, the Zanjón de Granados to the south (left of the map) and the Zanjón de Matorras to the north.  The plan displays a remarkably simple but powerful allocation of property: private within the blocks and public outside the lines.  Garay had reserved a block at the center of the river's edge for the fort, and an adjacent one inland for the main square.

Yes, I know, the fort appears to be much larger and the square (indicated with the letter "A") takes at least four blocks... well, that's the beauty of maps.  Interestingly enough, drawing the square two blocks in width allows our mapmaker to place a street at the very center of the city, as if prefiguring the Avenida de Mayo that would be opened exactly in that position towards the end of the 19th century (at the time, the main road entering the city--the "Camino Real," current Avenida Rivadavia--was aligned with the northern edge of the main square.)

No comments :

Post a Comment