Much of Palermo, Buenos Aires’ largest barrio, is vibrantly green and appealingly well kempt: ornate balconies overflow with jasmine and roses, grand apartment blocks line wide avenues, and plane trees, palms and jacarandas shade older, cobbled streets; its beautifully landscaped parks, some of the biggest in the world, come alive with locals practising in-line skating, playing football or walking their dogs.
Palermo takes its name from an Italian farmer, Giovanni Palermo, who in 1590 turned these former flood plains into vineyards and orchards. The barrio began to take on its present-day appearance when large parks and gardens were laid out at the end of the nineteenth century; the process of gentrification continued and Palermo is now regarded as a distinctly classy place to live.
Given its sizeable proportions – it stretches all the way from Avenida Coronel Díaz, on the border with Recoleta, to Colegiales and Belgrano, to the north – it’s not surprising that the barrio isn’t completely homogeneous. The bit of Palermo around Plaza República de Chile that juts into Recoleta is known as Palermo Chico and contains some significant museums, including the Museo de Arte Decorativo. Nearby, the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (MALBA) is a must for fans of modern art. About ten blocks west, Palermo Viejo is a traditional neighbourhood with lovely old houses along cobbled streets, but it’s become such a trendy place, full of funky cafés and avant-garde art galleries, that the area around Plaza Cortázar is now known as Soho. Across the rail tracks, people in the media work, eat and drink in a cluster of TV studios, restaurants and bars that have been christened Hollywood. Much of the north of Palermo is taken up by parks and gardens, such as the grand Parque 3 de Febrero, giving the area its soubriquet the “bosques de Palermo” (Palermo woods). At the barrio’s northern edge is Las Cañitas, a zone of upmarket bars and restaurants, focused on the corner of Báez and Arévalo.
Palermo Viejo, bounded by avenidas Santa Fe, Córdoba, Juan B. Justo and Raúl Scalabrini Ortíz, is the city’s most fashionable place to live, shop or have an evening out. The part of the city most closely linked to Borges, where he lived and began writing poetry in the 1920s, its architecture has changed little since then. It’s a compact oblong of narrow streets, most of them still cobbled and lined with brightly painted one- or two-storey Neocolonial villas and townhouses, many of them recently restored, some of them hidden behind luxuriant gardens full of bougainvillea and jasmine. Part run-down, part gentrified, it’s a leafy district with a laidback bohemian ambience, and many of its stylish houses have been converted into bars, cafés and boutiques. Large communities from Poland, Ukraine, Lebanon and Armenia live here, alongside a larger Italian contingent and some old Spanish families, and they all have their shops, churches and clubs, adding to the district’s colour. The area also boasts a dazzling blend of outstanding restaurants, serving cuisines as varied as Armenian and Vietnamese, and has succeeded in luring the city’s residents and visitors alike away from more superficial districts such as Puerto Madero and Las Cañitas.
Palermo Viejo’s official epicentre is Plaza Palermo Viejo, a wide, park-like square dominated by a children’s playground and some huge lime trees, but the barrio’s cultural and social focal point is nearby Plaza Serrano. The plaza’s official name (used on maps but unknown by most taxi drivers) is Plaza Cortázar, after Argentine novelist Julio Cortázar, who frequented this part of the city in the 1960s and set his Surrealist novel Hopscotch here. The plaza centre becomes the site of a crafts fair at weekends (Sat & Sun 10am–8pm), while more permanently it is surrounded by trattorias, cafés and bars, some of them doubling as arts centres and galleries. Among them, a rash of independent designer shops sell upmarket bohemian clothes, jewellery and furnishings – hence the Soho nickname. The nearest subte stations to Palermo Viejo are Scalabrini Ortíz and Plaza Italia.
Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (MALBA)
Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (MALBA)
One of the city’s best museums, the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (MALBA) is at Avenida Figueroa Alcorta 3415, two blocks north of the Museo de Arte Popular. The modern, glass-fronted, purpose-built building is an attraction in its own right and its airy, spacious galleries contrast with the dark nooks and crannies of the city’s more traditional art museums.
The permanent Constantini collection, on the first floor up, concentrates on the best Latin American art of the twentieth century. It is arranged chronologically, beginning around 1910, when the Modernist movement in Latin America heralded the start of a real sense of regional identity. This is exemplified in paintings such as a series by Argentine master Xul Solar, a Frida Kahlo self-portrait and Brazilian Tarsila Do Amaral’s Mexican-influenced Abaporu. Dark political undercurrents run through the 1930s to 1950s and the work of Antonio Berni and the Chilean Roberto Matta, while Catholic traditions are given a Surrealist twist in Remedios Varo’s votive box Icono. Things get more conceptual from the 1960s on, with the moving installations of Julio Le Parc and the LSD-splashed “end of art” collages by the “Nueva Figuración” movement.
Upstairs, temporary exhibitions generally feature the collected works of a prominent modern or contemporary artist, often an Argentine. MALBA also has its own small art house cinema, a café open until midnight, a bookstore and a fun gift shop.