Argentina’s History – Finding & Settling Buenos Aires

Argentina’s History – Finding & Settling Buenos Aires

finding buenos aires 1502

To get the best out of the great and historical city of Buenos Aires it is helpful to understand the history of Argentina.  In our experience, it is history that moulds a people and their culture, more so Buenos Aires than any other city we have visited.

Buenos Aires Stay Apartments historical summary provides just a glimpse of the important historical milestones from the sixteenth century to recent times.  What becomes very apparent is that Buenos Aires for much of that time has been Argentina.

Amerigo Vespucci may have visited the region now called Argentina in 1502 and discovered that South America went further south than ever imagined. His accounts lead to much controversy because seafarers of the period crossing the south Atlantic thought they would reach Asia (the Indies).

Christopher Columbus had found great fame for his discovery of America and various chroniclers accuse the Spanish throne, looking to protect its interests in the region, of suppressing Vespucci’s ships log and his personal diaries before their full publication.

This deception made Vespucci seem dishonourable, he was accused of trying to steal his Portuguese predecessors thunder.

However, Vespucci never went to sea again and Spain bestowed the new and very grand title of Chief Navigator of Spain upon him – certainly not a title befitting a deceiver.

In 1507, Martin Waldseemüller produced an incredible work of the time, Universalis Cosmograpia, a world map on which he named a new continent ‘America’; maybe a homophone of Amerigo Vespucci’s first name?

At the time, the Spanish throne stated that a book published as reference to the map held ‘dubious information.’  Even if he had failed to publish contemporaneous logs and diaries, it is widely thought that Amerigo’s maps found their way into Universalis Cosmograpia that would prove too accurate, even by modern standards.  Waldseemüller dropped the name America from later works.

Juan Díaz de Solís was an accomplished Portuguese seafarer and traitor to his Country.  He fled to Spain before British Agents in Lisbon uncovered his treachery in 1504.  On the death of Vespucci, he became Pilot Major in the Spanish navy and planned a major expedition to the South Indies.

In 1515, Juan Diaz de Solis sailed straight to the east coast of South America and navigated directly to its largest and most important estuary, arriving at the Rio del la Plata in 1516 and originally naming it Mar Dulce or Sweet Sea.

Some accounts state that his expeditionary force perished after an attack by local tribes, some accounts suggest the men were eaten alive – unlikely.  More likely, this traitor, who may have stolen Vespucci’s thunder probably suffered a mutiny.

The Mar Dulce (the modern Río de la Plata) later played host to Magellan who arrived in 1520, followed by Sebastian Cabot in 1526.

Sebastian Cabot discovered the Paraná and Paraguay rivers and established fort Sancti Spíritus (the first Spanish settlement in the Plata basin).  He also sent home reports of the presence of gold and silver.

In 1528, Cabot met another expedition from Spain under Diego García, commander of a ship from the earlier Solís expedition.  Both Cabot and García had planned to sail for the Moluccas but altered their courses influenced by excited tales of the Enchanted City of the Caesars (a variant of the Eldorado legend), which prompted many explorations and conquests in Argentina.

While Cabot was preparing to search for the fabled city, a surprise attack by the Indians in September 1529 wiped out his Sancti Spíritus settlement.

Inspired by the conquest of Peru and the threat from Portugal’s growing power in Brazil, Spain in 1535 sent an expedition under Pedro de Mendoza (equipped at his own expense) to force a permanent settlement on the tribes of Mar Dulce.

Pedro de Mendoza founded a small settlement on the site that is now modern day San Telmo in 1536, first called Ciudad de Nuestra Señora Santa María del Buen Ayre, which literally means City of Our Lady Saint Mary of the Fair Winds, the proper title for Buenos Aires.

San Telmo would later be a great and historical barrio (district) in modern Buenos Aires.  Today, there is a monument to the 1536 settlement in San Telmo.

Again, unified local tribes attacked and burnt to the settlement to the ground.  Pedro Mendoza’s brother Gonzalez saved both the expedition and Mendoza.  Mendoza returned home in 1537, and like Solis, he died before reaching Spain.

In 1537, a party from Buenos Aires under the command of Juan de Ayolas and Domingo Martínez de Irala, both lieutenants of Mendoza, pushed a thousand miles up the Parana and Paraguay rivers.  Ayolas was lost on an exploring expedition, but Domingo Martinez de IralaIa founded Asunción (now capital of Paraguay).

In 1541, the few remaining inhabitants abandoned Buenos Aires and moved to Asunción, which was the first permanent settlement in the Rio del la Plata basin.

During the next half century, Asunción was a safe haven for adventurers to conquest and settle Argentina.

In 1580 Juan de Garay re-settled Buenos Aires with from Asunción.  Juan de Garay’s established the first permanent settlement on the Southern shore of Rio Del La Plata.

Initially, neighbouring Spanish colonies from Chile, Peru, and Paraguay (Asunción) overflowed to settle Argentina.

There was little direct migration from Spain, probably because of the threat from local tribes and the success of Mexico, Peru, and other Spanish colonies, whose rich mines, a large supply of tractable Indian labour, accessibility, and the privilege of direct trade with Spain made them more attractive.

Both Tucumán and Córdoba were dominant regions and early intellectual and economic power bases in Argentina during both the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  They prospered as the main source of agricultural produce for Upper Peru’s (Bolivia) mineworkers and traded food for silver and goods from the old-world.  These regions would find great wealth and establish local governments and the oldest surviving ecclesiastical schools and universities in Argentina.

Tucumán, Córdoba and fledgling Buenos Aires would form part of the Viceroyalty of Peru, an office set up in 1542 to administrate Spanish America, which made Lima the most important city in South America.

It should be noted that Spain prohibited the natural ports of the Río de la Plata to trade, with communication and commerce embargoed in favour of Lima so Spain could control trade, taxes, and ‘’distribution’’ of resource.

Stifling the growth of Buenos Aires caused much discontent making the early Porteños (people of the port of Buenos Aires) both angry and poor.

Buenos Aires port first based in La Boca fast became a centre for contraband, piracy and much discontent aimed at the Spanish crown.  La Boca is today a centre for tourism and is the city’s bohemia although sadly dangerous outside the well-policed Caminito Street.

The other articles in this series that summarise and provide some historical milestones for travelers to Argentina are listed as links below:

Finding and Settling Buenos Aires Argentina

Argentina´s Road to Independence

Post independence Argentina and the British

Making Modern Argentina


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