While it was Juan Díaz de Solís who first navigated the Río de la Plata in 1516 - and thus first saw the virgin land which Buenos Aires would one day cover - he was killed by Charrúa warriors up-river in what would become Uruguay before he could return to found any future megacities. It would take another twenty years for Pedro de Mendoza to establish Ciudad de Nuestra Señora Santa María del Buen Ayre - on this day in 1536, in fact. The settlement Mendoza founded is now the city's San Telmo barrio; following an escalating series of attacks by the indigenous Querandís of the area the settlement was abandoned in 1541, at which point the few surviving settlers moved to Asunción.
Clearly it would take more than harassment by the locals to put the idea of Buenos Aires down; in fact, the city was refounded in 1580* by Juan de Garay, who dubbed it Santisima Trinidad and its port Puerto de Santa Maria de los Buenos Aires. It's apt, then that the city of today derives its name from the port rather than the town, since for most of the next two hundred and fifty years the good porteños of the city set about living their lives by trading goods from upriver - from Asunción, Montevideo, and even as far away as Lima.
Spanish colonial rule was so callous, so arbitrary, so utterly colonial that it's amazing the New World's independence movements took as long as they did to develop... Even more amazing - that the Spanish had the utter temerity to act surprised when, after centuries of treating colonists like so much raw material that they began to chafe under the treatment. Ultimately it was the British invasions of the Río de la Plata in 1806 and 1807 - as much as the Peninsular War of 1810 - that led to the birth of an independent Argentina during the May Revolution. By 1816 the country was its own boss...
Of course, democracy would take a little longer - as would the status of Buenos Aires as the country's first city. It wasn't until 1880 that the city was federalized and the seat of government installed at the Casa Rosada that B. A. began to take on the aspect of a capital.
Of course, prior to beginning my research for this piece, what little I knew of Buenos Aires came from three sources: an incessant barrage of media stories in North America about corrupt dictatorships, crime, and economic mismanagement that all made me feel a little smug about Canadian politics, propaganda from the Falklands War era, and Evita**. Still, I feel like some day I'd like to get to know this city of 12 million they call the 'Paris of South America'. Just as soon as President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner does something about the villas miserias and all the kidnappings...
*July 11th, to be precise.
**Plus, I own one porno that has a non-sex scene which takes place in La Recoleta Cemetery.
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