Confident and stylish, with a vibrant cultural scene and a lively nightlife, Rosario dominates the whole region. With a little over 1.2 million inhabitants, it is Argentina’s third-biggest city – Córdoba just beats it to second place. However, Rosario likes to see itself as the most worthy rival to Buenos Aires, 300km southeast – in some ways it is a far smaller version of the capital, but without the hordes of foreign visitors or the political clout. It’s also the birthplace of two global superstars, football sensation Lionel Messi and revolutionary hero Che Guevara.
Geographically the comparison with Buenos Aires certainly holds: Rosario is a flattish riverside city and major port, lying at the heart of a vital agricultural region, its streets lined with shabby but handsome buildings and lilac-blossomed jacaranda trees. Unlike Buenos Aires, however, Rosario has always enjoyed a close relationship with its waterfront; the Río Paraná, which swells to an eye-popping 2km wide at this point, features an attractive riverfront that runs for 8km along the city’s eastern edge, flanked by high-rise condos, parks, bars and restaurants and, to the north, popular beaches. One of its main attractions is the splendidly unspoilt series of so-called “delta islands” with wide sandy beaches, just minutes away from the city by boat. You can also admire some of Argentina’s finest turn-of-the-century architecture here, with an eclectic spread of styles ranging from English chalets to Catalan Modernism. In addition to the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo, housed in a conspicuously converted grain silo on the riverside, the city’s most celebrated attraction, nationally at least, is the monolithic Monumento a la Bandera, a marble paean to Argentine independence.
Rosario lacks an official founding date, with the settlement slowly developing in the eighteenth century around a series of Catholic missions to the local Calchaquí tribes, military outposts and estancias in an area known as Pago de los Arroyos. In 1730 the parish was established with remnants of an old mission chapel dedicated to the Virgen del Rosario – the new church was completed in 1762 and gradually lent its name to the settlement, given formal status by the colonial authorities in 1823. Despite its strategic location as a port for goods from Córdoba and Santa Fe provinces, early growth was slow: it wasn’t until 1852, when river traffic was freed up, that Rosario was granted city status and finally set on course for expansion. The city’s population was boosted further when the Central Argentine Railway, owned and largely financed by the British, was completed in 1870, providing a link to Córdoba.
By 1895, Rosario was Argentina’s second city, with 91,000 inhabitants – many of them immigrants attracted by the promise of the by now flourishing port, giving the city its soubriquet, “Hija de los Barcos” (Daughter of the Ships). In the twentieth century the city became a major Peronist stronghold, and the Partido Socialista (Socialist Party) has won every election for mayor since 1989. In 2011 Mónica Fein became the first female Socialist candidate to be elected mayor in Argentine history, and was narrowly re-elected in 2015. Other rosarino celebrities include leading artists Antonio Berni and Lucio Fontana, three of Argentina’s most popular singers – Fito Páez, Juan Carlos Baglietto and Litto Nebbia – and the late cartoonist Roberto Fontanarrosa, whose most beloved creation was the hapless gaucho Inodoro Pereyra.
Rosario’s small airport, Aeropuerto Internacional de Rosario, lies around 15km west of the city centre, along RN- 9, with 1–6 daily flights to and from Buenos Aires and a handful of other destinations. From the airport, bus #115 runs every 30min into the centre along San Luis, two blocks south of Plaza 25 de Mayo. A faster, more comfortable alternative is the dedicated Aeromovi bus that runs to the centre (Dorrego and Santa Fe) in 40min (via the Terminal de Ómnibus) every hour or so – check the schedule online. Taxi rates are fixed according to the destination: it’s $420–460 to the centre ($370 to the Terminal de Ómnibus and $4250 to Santa Fe); they’ll probably use the meter on the way back. You’ll find the major car rental desks in the terminal, plus a Banco Santa Cruz ATM, though don’t count on it working (make sure you have pesos as there is nowhere to change money).
Long-distance buses arrive at Rosario’s clean and user-friendly Terminal de Ómnibus Mariano Moreno, 4km west of Plaza 25 de Mayo, at Santa Fe and Cafferata. An information kiosk can provide you with a list of hotels and a map, and there are also plenty of cafés, free wi-fi, Banco Municipal ATMs and left luggage facilities. To head into the centre, walk to the corner of Cafferata and Córdoba and catch bus #115, #116, #133 or #142. Otherwise, plenty of taxis pull up outside the front entrance ($100–150 to the centre).
Trains currently shuttle between ultra-modern Rosario Norte station (Aristóbulo del Valle and Callao) and Retiro in Buenos Aires once a day in both directions, departing Buenos Aires at 4.40pm (arriving 11.05pm) and departing Rosario 12.15am (arriving in BA at 6.43am). Retiro to Tucumán trains and Retiro to Córdoba trains also stop at Rosario Norte station once daily in each direction. See the website for more information.
Passenger boats run to the various islands in the Paraná River throughout the week, with regular services Nov–March from 10am to dusk (1 or 2 departures daily; return $260–300); out of season, services are less frequent. All boats depart from the Estación Fluvial, at De los Inmigrantes 410 on the Costanera.
Rosario’s bus system is cheap and easy to use, with bus numbers clearly marked and route maps at most bus stops. Cash fares are $19.70, but you can only pay with $1 or $2 coins (no change). If you intend to use buses a lot, get a stored-value card (MOVI or tarjetamagnética; minimum value $25; fares $18.28) – there’s a booth selling them at the bus terminal. You can also buy them at the Centro Municipal at Wheelwright 1486 and in the centre at Santa Fe 1055.
Taxis are easy to hail on the street; the meter starts at $53, adding $2.65 every 100m (Mon–Sat 10pm–6am, and all day Sun/hols, the rate jumps to $60.56 plus $3 every 100m). Most trips across the centre should be no more than $150–200.
Tourists can use the Mi Bici Tu Bici bike share scheme (with stations all over the city) through the website or associated app. The daily rate is $23.63 but each trip is limited to 30min before you have to dock and check out again.
One long-established river trip is a 2hr river cruise on the sightseeing boat, Ciudad de Rosario, while the more intimate Island Explorer dinghies do 2hr trips from the Estación Fluvial. Paseos en Lancha Rosario offers all sorts of boat and kayak tours along the Paraná.
Rosario has plenty of restaurants to suit all budgets, both in the city centre and along the Costanera. There are some excellent freshwater fish restaurants specialising in boga, dorado (not related to the saltwater fish) and catfish-like surubí, but look out also for the “Carlitos”. This toasted sandwich – invented here and mostly served in bars – is basically a combination of ham, cheese, olives and (crucially) ketchup, and it has a cult status among rosarinos.
Rosario is noted for its nightlife, la movida, but its clubs can be a little disappointing. In summer, when all the action moves to the Rambla Catalunya, you’re limited to one or two very popular but faceless mega-discos, whose names but not character change with the seasons. The city’s popular milongas offer a more authentic experience: Rosario has a hard core of tango enthusiasts – who dance a slightly showier version of the dance than Porteños – and most nights of the week there is something going on. The tourist office should have a list of current milongas.
Rosario’s premier shopping street is Paseo del Siglo (aka Av Córdoba), pedestrian-only from Paraguay to Plaza 25 de Mayo, and lined with some of the best examples of Rosario’s belle époque architecture. Towards its western end lies Plaza San Martín, a spacious park dominated by an equestrian statue of the independence hero. On the plaza’s west side lies the former Palacio Provincial de Justicia, completed in 1892 and now part of the Universidad Nacional de Rosario (UNR). On the north side of Plaza San Martín sits the former police headquarters, completed in 1916 and now the seat of the provincial government of Santa Fe – it’s known as Casa Gris (“Grey House”) after its stark German Neoclassical design. In the southwest corner of the plaza lies the Museo de la Memoria, commemorating the political violence of the 1970s and 1980s. Heading east on Paseo del Siglo, the Bolsa de Commercio, the Rosario Board of Trade, is a gorgeous beaux-arts landmark designed by Raúl Rivero in 1926, while the 1915 Jockey Club building at Córdoba and Maipú is one of Argentina’s finest Art Deco gems.
Constructed on the site of the first modest chapel built to venerate the Virgen del Rosario, Plaza 25 de Mayo is the historic heart of the city. Today the plaza is an elegantly shady space laid out very formally around its central marble column, the Monumento a la Independencia. On the southeast of the square, at Córdoba and Buenos Aires, lies the imposing Palacio del Correo (central post office), completed in 1938. On the northeast corner is the terracotta-coloured Palacio Municipal, also known as the Palacio de los Leones in reference to the majestic sculptured lions that flank the main entrance. It was completed around 1896 and still serves as the city government building.
Despite its relatively modest facade, the Museo Estévez is a real gem, a decorative arts museum housed in a fantastically ornate mansion. It’s crammed with artwork donated to the city in the 1960s by its former occupant, Firma Estévez, in memory of her Spanish husband Odilo (who emigrated to Rosario in the 1880s and made a fortune in Argentina by selling the “Yerba 43” mate brand). It’s a stunning display – every inch of the interior is furnished and ornamented with everything from Egyptian glassware and tiny Greek sculptures to Flemish tapestry and Limoges porcelain, via pre-Hispanic ceramics and Spanish ivory figures. There’s a small but impressive painting collection, too, including Portrait of a Gentleman by French Neoclassicist Jacques Louis David, and a Goya portrait, Doña María Teresa Ruiz Apodaca de Sesma, with strikingly piercing black eyes.
Completed in 1957, Rosario’s premier historic sight is the Monumento a la Bandera, a vast monumental complex honouring the Argentine flag (bandera) and the heroes who have fought for it since independence. General Manuel Belgrano designed the flag in the city in 1812, lending Rosario the official title of “Cuna de la Bandera” (Birthplace of the Flag). The first section of the monument comprises a 70m tower guarding what was supposed to be Belgrano’s tomb (the general remains in Buenos Aires, as per his wishes), overlooking the river and adorned with sculptures; the whole thing is shaped like a ship’s prow, representing Argentina sailing towards a glorious future. The observation deck on top of the tower (“Mirador de la Torre”) affords stellar views of the river and city. Behind the tower, up the slope, is an amphitheatre-like space (Patio Cívico) leading to the “Propileo”, a Modernist Greek temple gateway containing an Eternal Flame (“Llama Votiva”) dedicated to those who lost their lives in the wars for independence. Beyond, the Pasaje Juramento, lined with dramatic marble figures and fountains by the great sculptor Lola Mora, links the monument to Plaza 25 de Mayo. The country’s major Flag Day celebrations are held at the monument on June 20 each year, but there’s a small flag-hoisting ceremony every day at 8.15am. Across the road from the main tower is the Cenotafio a los Caídos en Malvinas, completed in 2005 to honour veterans of the Falklands War.
Dolores Mora Vega de Hernández – better known as Lola Mora – was born on November 17, 1866, at El Tala, a tiny village in Salta Province very close to the Tucumán border. She completed her studies in Italy and took to working in marble, a medium used for much of her prolific oeuvre of statues and monuments. In addition to works in various towns and cities around the country, she is best known for her invaluable contribution to the Monumento a la Bandera in Rosario; the magnificent Nereidas fountain adorning the Costanera Sur in Buenos Aires; and the voluptuous set of allegorical figures – Peace, Progress, Justice, Freedom and Labour – intended for the National Congress building but never placed there, as they were considered too shocking. Instead the five naked forms can be admired at the Casa de Gobierno in Jujuy. Hailed as the country’s foremost sculptress, Lola had a tragic life, losing her parents at an early age, enduring a turbulent marriage and facing social rejection owing to her bohemian lifestyle and her predilection for portraying shapely female forms (leading to comparisons with Camille Claudel). Towards the end of her life, she suffered from ill health and psychological problems. She died in poverty, on June 7, 1936, shortly after reconciliation with her husband after seventeen years of estrangement and only a few months after the national government agreed to grant her a pension.
Stretching over 8km from north to south, Rosario’s Costanera, or riverfront, is one of the city’s most appealing features, offering numerous green spaces and views over the Río Paraná. Its most central park, the Parque Nacional de la Bandera, lies just to the east of the Monumento a la Bandera. At the southern end of the park is the Estación Fluvial from where regular boat services run to the river islands and cafés line the river. Every weekend there is a flea market selling crafts, antiques and books – the Mercado de Pulgas del Bajo – around Avenida Belgrano 500, which runs past the western edge of the park.
Dissected by various avenues and containing several museums, a football stadium and a racetrack, the Parque de la Independencia feels like a neighbourhood in itself. Newell’s Old Boys football club, Lionel Messi’s first pro team, was founded here in 1903 and named for Isaac Newell, an Englishman who emigrated to Rosario in his teens and went on to pioneer football in Argentina. The park itself was inaugurated in 1902 and is an attractively landscaped space with shady walkways and beautifully laid-out gardens such as the formal Jardín Francés, just west of the main entrance on Boulevard Oroño. The park can be reached on foot from the city centre via a particularly attractive walk along the Paseo del Siglo and Oroño, though it can be a hot slog in the summer – you could also take a taxi or a bus.
Acknowledgement of Rosario’s most famous son, the revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara, was a long time in coming; compared with Cuba, where Che is a hero of gigantic proportions, the Argentine authorities have seemed rather embarrassed about him, and it took until 2008 for a monument to him to be erected in his hometown. The bronze statue was unveiled to commemorate what would have been his 80th birthday, but even then, it was funded by thousands of small donations from around the world rather than the government, though they did contribute the space – an out of the way, rather forlorn plaza on 27 de Febrero and Laprida, twelve blocks east of Parque de la Independencia. The statue itself depicts a larger-than-life though not, in truth, very lifelike Che striding purposefully, mounted on a concrete plinth covered in suitably socialist graffiti.
Top image: Panoramic view cityscape of the city of Rosario, Argentina © illpaxphotomatic/Shutterstock