I’ve always said that Rosario has beautiful women and good football. What more could an intellectual ask for?
Confident and stylish, with a vibrant cultural scene and a lively nightlife, ROSARIO dominates the whole region. With a little over one million inhabitants, it is Argentina’s third-biggest city – Córdoba just beats it for second place. However, Rosario likes to see itself as a 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. Geographically the comparison certainly holds: Rosario is a flattish riverside city and major port, lying at the heart of a vital agricultural region. Its cobbled streets lined with handsome buildings and leafy trees – both with a tendency to flake – manage to be decadent and dynamic at the same time. Unlike Buenos Aires, however, whose back has until recently been firmly to the water, Rosario has always enjoyed a close relationship with the Río Paraná; the attractive riverfront area runs for 20km along the city’s eastern edge, flanked by 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. Packed with locals during the sweltering summers that afflict the region, they give Rosario the feel of a resort town, despite the city’s little-developed tourist industry.
Rosario may not have any of the impressive ecclesiastical and colonial architecture of, say, Salta or Córdoba. However, as the legacy of its late nineteenth-century wealth, it does boast some particularly handsome examples of rather more worldly constructions. You can see some of Argentina’s finest turn-of-the-century architecture here, with an eclectic spread of styles ranging from English chalets to Catalan Modernism. The dawn of the new millennium saw a rash of architectural and art projects, such as the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo, housed in a conspicuously converted grain silo on the riverside. Rosario has a handful of conventional museums and galleries, while its most famous sight, nationally at least, is the monolithic Monumento a la Bandera, a 70m marble paean to the Argentine flag.
Unusually for a Hispano-American city, Rosario lacks an official founding date. Having slowly grown up around a simple chapel, built in the grounds of an estancia in the late seventeenth century and dedicated to the Virgen del Rosario, the original settlement became known as La Capilla del Rosario. Despite its strategic location as a port for goods from Córdoba and Santa Fe provinces, early growth was slow: as in the whole region, Rosario’s progress was hindered by Buenos Aires’ stranglehold on the movement of trade between the interior and foreign markets through blockades of the Río Paraná. After 1852 when river traffic was freed up, Rosario was finally set on course for expansion and the city’s population ballooned from 3000 in 1850 to 23,000 in 1869, 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). By the early twentieth century, the city had an important banking district populated by representatives from the world’s major financial institutions, and a growing number of industries. Like Buenos Aires, Rosario also had its sleazy side, one that won it another nickname, the “Chicago of the South”: during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the city was claimed to be a centre of white slave traffic with a notorious zone of prostitution known as the Barrio de Pichincha.
The latter half of the twentieth century was a period of intense political conflict and saw a steady decline in Rosario’s fortunes, with the city suffering one of the country’s highest unemployment rates. However, with the aid of forward-thinking local government policies, Rosario turned itself around, so that by the 2000s the city was once again a vital link between its hinterland’s rejuvenated farmland (producing beef, dairy goods, soya, wheat and maize) and the outside world. Tourists came, attracted by the boomtown’s dynamic cultural offering and catered to by a constantly improving set of hotels and even Latin America’s biggest casino. The pace of growth has slowed in recent years, but Rosario remains an attractive and progressive city that has been home to a number of well-known Argentine names. Revolutionary Che Guevara was born in an apartment block on the corner of Santa Fe and Urquiza (and is commemorated by a modest monument), while arguably the greatest footballer of the twenty-first century, Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi was born here and began his career at local club Newell’s Old Boys. 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 famous creation was the luckless gaucho Inodoro Pereyra.