The pleasant and spacious city of LA PLATA, the purpose-built provincial capital, was essentially conceived as an administrative centre and in many ways it shows. For many locals it is simply somewhere to go to carry out the dreaded trámites, or bureaucratic procedures. In terms of identity, the city undoubtedly suffers from being so close to Buenos Aires, whose seemingly endless sprawl now laps at its outskirts, practically turning the city that was created as a counterbalance to the capital into its suburb. Nevertheless La Plata boasts a rich cultural life, partly because it is an important university town, with three major institutes drawing students from all over the country. One of the city’s chief attractions is its bushy park, the Paseo del Bosque, ten blocks northeast of the centre, where you will find the Museo de La Plata, famed for some remarkable dinosaur skeletons. You won’t need to stay overnight, but it makes for an enjoyable excursion from the city.
When Buenos Aires became the federal capital in 1880, Buenos Aires Province – by far the wealthiest and most powerful in the republic – was deprived of a centre of government. A year later, the province’s newly nominated governor, Dardo Rocha, proposed that a provincial capital be created 50km southeast of the federal capital. The new city’s layout was based on an absolutely regular numbered street plan within a 5km square and was designed by the French architect Pedro Benoit. An international competition was held to choose designs for the most important public buildings, and the winning architects included Germans and Italians as well as Argentines, a mix of nationalities reflected in the city’s impressive civic architecture. Argentina’s first entirely planned city, La Plata was officially founded on November 19, 1882. Electric streetlights were installed in 1884 – the first in Latin America. Unfortunately, however, much of La Plata’s carefully conceived architectural identity was lost during the twentieth century, as anonymous modern constructions replaced many of the city’s original buildings. On a brighter note, there have been some successful attempts to preserve what’s left – above all, the old train station, now the wonderful setting for the Pasaje Dardo Rocha arts centre, notable not only for its contemporary art museum but also for its stunning interior. The 1990s saw the final completion of the city’s grandiose Neo-Gothic cathedral, over a century after its foundation stone was laid; it dominates Plaza Moreno at the very heart of the city. Another project that took decades to complete, the Estadio Único was finally inaugurated in 2011, in time for the Copa América soccer tournament won by Uruguay; the city’s new pride and joy, in addition to football and other sporting events the stadium hosts major music concerts.