photo by Dan DeLuca Used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License
Constitución is somewhat of anomaly amongst the barrios of Buenos Aires. On the one hand it is home to some impressive architecture dating back to colonial times, yet on the other hand its streets are blighted by drug trafficking, sex workers, 24-hour nightclubs and noise pollution.
An introduction to Constitución
Constitución is the barrio situated to the south of Buenos Aires Centro and an important transport hub for those travelling to and from the south of the city and into Buenos Aires Province. The barrio is bordered by Monserrat to the north, San Telmo to the east, Barracas to the south, Parque Patricios to the southwest, San Cristobal to the west and Balvanera to the northwest.
During the colonial era, Constitución was considered to be situated on the limits of Buenos Aires, eventually incorporated into the city in 1777. At the end of the 18th century, the barrio was the home to a Bethlehemites mission that established a convalescent hospital. This functioned up until 1821 when it was replaced by a significant farmer’s market, which triggered the development of the area. In 1856, following the declaration of the Argentine Constitución, the market was renamed Mercado de Constitución from which the barrio adopted the very same name.
In 1865, the barrio witnessed a groundbreaking event with the first construction stages of Estacion Constitución, the most important railway station of the Ferrocarril del Sud (Southern Railway). Stretching as far as Chascomus in Buenos Aires Province, Constitución began to see a rise in the arrival of immigrant workers. Consequently, the barrio developed similar social characteristics to the middle class of Barracas, Monserrat and San Telmo. Settling in European-styled homes, over the years these residences would become utilized as cheap hotels and accommodation for immigrants to Argentina from neighboring countries.
Today, Constitución remains a largely immigrant barrio and, with constant reports of squatting, drug wars and open prostitution, it is often classed as the most conflictive barrio in Buenos Aires. Chances are that you will not want to live here; however, you might be interested in passing through briefly one afternoon.
Things to see, do or both
The beating heart of Constitución is Estacion Constitución, and should you have an interest in trains and railways then this station, built in four stages during the 1800-1900s, could be for you. Presenting a blend of neoclassic and Victorian architectural styles, the station has fourteen tracks and transits around half a million passengers per day. If you are travelling by train to La Plata, Bahia Blanca, Mar del Plata or Tandil then your journey will start here.
Adjacent to the train station is Plaza Constitución, the site of the former farmer’s market and home to statues commemorating Juan Jose Castelli, an important figure of the May Revolution, political theorist Juan Bautista Alberdi, and Venezuelan war of independence general Jose Antonio Paez. About three blocks west of Plaza Constitución is Plaza Garay, a public square that provides a brief respite from the noise and mayhem generally associated with the barrio.
Arguably Constitución’s greatest asset is its eclectic collection of churches and religious houses that offer the chance to admire some impressive works of architecture. The most prominent of these is the Iglesia del Inmaculado Corazon de Maria built in neo-gothic style at the north end of Plaza Constitución. Also worth checking out is Monasterio de San Jose de Carmelitas Descalzas on Entre Rios street which has been the home of nuns for over a century. On the border with Monserrat (Independencia and Salta) is the Casa de Ejercicios Espirituales. Founded in 1795, it is said to be the only colonial era building in the city that has been unchanged since its foundation.
If you still have your sanity after an afternoon amidst the chaos, perhaps spend an hour or two at the Museo de la Caricatura Severo Vaccaro, dedicated to the preservation of the history of Argentine humor and cartoonists.
Nightlife and restaurants
With its cosmopolitan immigrant population – Bolivians, Dominicans, Paraguayans and Peruvians, amongst others – Constitución has a host of colorful bars and boliches; however, many that you’d be advised to avoid like the plague. Nevertheless, a couple of places of note will fuel your hunger needs should you stick around long enough to eat.
Aramburu (Salta 1050). This is a restaurant you certainly wouldn’t expect to stumble upon walking the streets of Constitución, and unless you have the address you definitely won’t find it. Tucked away behind an unassuming graffiti covered door, Aramburu presents a romantic eight table restaurant where diners are spoilt with a 10-course tasting menu accompanied by generous wine pairings. Make a reservation and arrive and depart by taxi.
Les Anciens Combattants (Santiago del Estero 1435). Two blocks west of Plaza Constitución, at first glance Santiago del Estero street does not seem to be the most inviting, yet find this early 19th century Italian mansion and your opinion could well change. A popular meeting point of French WWII veterans in the 1940s, there are only five tables but if you manage to get one you’ll be treated to some fine French inspired dishes. With high ceilings, stained-glass windows and walls adorned with war trophies and paraphernalia, you are transported to a time gone by.
Why it’s hot / Why it’s not
Constitución has a great deal of history but unfortunately is all too often in the news for the wrong reasons. If you do have a strong desire to live here then you are all but guaranteed to find cheap rental accommodation although you’ll need to have your wits about you at all times, more so at night when the undesirables come out to play.
Despite its bad press, there are rumors that the City of Buenos Aires government is planning a complete overhaul and refurbishment of the barrio in an attempt to make it a more attractive and less conflictive area. Only time will tell whether this will prove to be successful.