Monday, January 14, 2013

Dante in Buenos Aires

Providence, January 14, 2013

After the carnage and destruction of the Great War (WWI) many had little hope--rather correctly, as it turned out--for Europe.  Among them was an Italian immigrant in Argentina named Luis Barolo, that decided to do something about it.  He was sure that the ashes of his hero, Dante Alighieri, needed to be rescued from certain doom in Italy and that Buenos Aires, his adopted hometown, offered an ideal safe haven.

But of course, you couldn't just build an ordinary monument for Dante's ashes, so Barolo, who by then had amassed a considerable fortune in the textile business, set out to build the tallest building in South America (it kept that distinction for over a decade!) as the proper resting place for il Sommo Poeta.  He charged his architect, the Milanese Mario Palanti, with the design of an office building as a landmark based on Dante's masterpiece, the Divine Comedy.

Located along Avenida de Mayo--the central thoroughfare opened for the 1910 Argentinean Centennial,-- the Palacio Barolo is exactly a hundred meters tall, the number of cantos in Dante's poem.  As you can imagine, the building is divided in three parts: Inferno (the basement and ground level,) Purgatorio (the body of the building, floors 1 to 14) and Paradiso (a tower, of course, rising above the cornice level of the avenue, floors 15 to 22.)  The architect followed many other patterns of the poem, like in the nine arcades of the ground-level passage (the nine circles of Hell) or the 22 floors (11 or 22 stanzas in each canto) of the building.

Back in Milan, Palanti cast a sculptural allegory to house Dante's ashes, but it got lost in transit and never made it to Buenos Aires.  Also, the poet's remains--you guessed it--never left Ravenna (or Florence, or wherever they are.)

(NB: completed in 1923, Barolo's building preceded Terragni's famous Danteum by 15 years.)

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