Less than 40km south of Córdoba and 3km west of busy RP-5, historic ALTA GRACIA lies at the northern entrance of the Calamuchita Valley. It is now rather nondescript, but in the 1920s and 1930s its location between the city and the mountains made it popular with the wealthy bourgeoisie of Buenos Aires and Córdoba, who built holiday homes in the town – Che Guevara, surprisingly, spent some of his youth here, and revolutionary composer Manuel de Falla fled here from the Spanish Civil War. The original colonial settlement dates from the late sixteenth century, but in 1643 it was chosen as the site for a Jesuit estancia around which the town grew up. After the Jesuits’ expulsion in 1767, the estancia fell into ruin but was inhabited for a short time in 1810 by Viceroy Liniers, forced to leave Córdoba following the Argentine declaration of independence. The Museo Casa del Virrey Liniers is housed in the Residencia, the Jesuits’ original living quarters and workshops (wwww.museoliniers.org.ar). Entered through an ornate Baroque doorway on Plaza Manuel Solares, the town’s main square, the beautifully restored Residencia, with its colonnaded upper storey, forms two sides of a cloistered courtyard. Exhibits consist mainly of furniture and art dating from the early nineteenth century, but there are also some magnificent examples of colonial religious paintings and sculptures. Perhaps the most interesting sections of the museum are the painstakingly recreated kitchen and the herrería, or forge, the oldest part of the estancia. The church adjoining the Residencia, though in pitifully poor repair, is used regularly for Mass; it lies immediately to the south.
Despite being one of Argentina’s most famous sons, Ernesto “Che” Guevara is little celebrated in his homeland, with nothing like the number of monuments and museums and the amount of fanfare you might expect for such as international icon. This is no doubt at least in part due to Che fighting his battles elsewhere – primarily, of course, in Cuba, where he is idolized, but also in places like Bolivia, where he finally met his end. It is hard to know whether Argentine authorities ignore his legacy because he was, well, anti-authoritarian, or whether they feel offended that he had the cheek to go and instigate revolution outside of la gran Argentina. Whatever his claims to supra-nationality may be, though, Che was certainly Argentine – a fact reflected even in his nickname (“che” being a common interjection, more or less meaning “hey”, and very characteristic of the River Plate region). He was born to a middle-class family in Rosario in 1928, and moved to Alta Gracia with his family at the age of 5, going to Deán Funes college in Córdoba before moving on to the Universidad de Buenos Aires to study medicine. Three years later, he set off on his famous motorbike trip around South America, during which he was exposed to the continent’s poverty and inequalities, as well as the cultural similarities that led him to believe in the need to foster a sense of regional rather than national identity. He did return to Buenos Aires to finish his studies, but a month after graduating he was back on the road, this time heading to Guatemala and a meeting with local radicals which eventually led him to Fidel Castro, Cuba and his status as one of the great revolutionary figures of the twentieth century.