The most famous of all the reducciones, San Ignacio Miní was originally founded in 1610 in the Guayrá region, in what is now Brazil. After the bandeirantes attacked the mission in 1631, the Jesuits moved thousands of miles southwards through the jungle, stopping several times en route at various temporary settlements before finally re-establishing the reducción at its present site in 1696.
The ruins occupy six blocks at the northeastern end of the village of San Ignacio: from the bus stop head east along Avenida Sarmiento for two blocks and turn left onto Rivadavia. Follow Rivadavia, which skirts around the ruins, for six blocks and then turn right onto Alberdi, where you’ll find the entrance to the site. At the entrance, there’s a small but worthwhile museum with a series of themed rooms depicting various aspects of Guaraní and mission life, plus a detailed maquette of the entire reducción. The site itself is dotted with panels lending context to the ruins, with audio provided in various languages, including English. Free, more detailed tours in rapid-fire Spanish depart regularly from the museum. There are also popular sound and light shows each evening.
On entering the settlement itself, you’ll come first to rows of simple viviendas, or living quarters, a series of six to ten adjoining one-roomed structures, each of which housed a Guaraní family. Like all the mission settlements, these are constructed in a mixture of basaltic rock and sandstone. Passing between the viviendas, you arrive at the spacious Plaza de Armas, whose emerald grass provides a stunning contrast with the rich red hues of the sandstone. At the southern end of the plaza, and dominating the entire site, stands the magnificent facade of San Ignacio’s church, designed, like Santa Ana’s, by the Italian architect Brazanelli. The roof and much of the interior have long since crumbled away, but two large chunks of wall on either side of the entrance remain, rising out of the ruins like two great Baroque wings. Though somewhat eroded, many fine details can still be made out: two columns flank either side of the doorway and much of the walls’ surface is covered with decorative bas-relief sculpture executed by Guaraní craftsmen. Most striking are the pair of angels that face each other high up on either side of the entrance, while a more austere touch is added by the prominent insignia of the Jesuit order on the right-hand side of the entrance.
To the left of the main entrance, you can wander around the cloisters and priests’ quarters, where a number of other fine doorways and carvings remain. Particularly striking is the doorway connecting the cloisters with the church baptistry, flanked by ribbed columns with heavily moulded bases and still retaining a triangular pediment over the arched doorway.