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International Study Trip: Argentina 2009

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Trip Information and Schedule

Argentina was the destination for Georgia State University’s 2009 study abroad program Landscapes of Memory: History, Culture and Historic Preservation. Masters candidates in GSU’s Heritage Preservation and History programs were accompanied by students from Emory and several GSU undergraduate students reflecting a variety of academic disciplines ranging from anthropology to psychology. Director Richard Laub organized the itinerary in collaboration with Dr. Fernando Reati, Chair of the Department of Modern and Classical Languages and Argentine native. The country’s two largest cities served as home base for the trip: the Spanish colonial capital of Cordoba in the central interior and Buenos Aires, the cosmopolitan port city 450 miles to the southeast. Site visits within each city were selected to illustrate Argentina’s complex history and the efforts to preserve its cultural patrimony. Settings associated with human rights violations, in particular, presented unique case studies in how history is selectively remembered, preserved and presented to the public. The nineteen-day itinerary also provided for a balance of free time and scenic day trips, contributing to an unparalleled educational experience and the opportunity to build relationships among fellow travelers.

Although home to over one million people, we found Cordoba to be the perfect launching place for our study abroad experience. The conveniently-located King David Hotel had the added bonus of a favorite rooftop gathering place. We quickly acclimated to the pedestrian-friendly city. A short walk led to the main square, Plaza San Martin, and several buildings reflecting the Spanish colonial heritage of the city, founded in 1573. Facing Plaza San Martin we discovered the Cabildo de Cordoba, the first Spanish colonial government building in the Americas. Professor Laub noted the roof construction techniques using brick between wooden beams for fireproofing purposes. Just to the south, the Cathedral of Cordoba is an architectural landmark reflecting various styles incorporated over the course of its construction which took almost two hundred years. On the opposite corner was the well-preserved home of the last governor of Spain, Casa del Virrey Sobremonte, juxtaposed among modern buildings. Now a museum, the structure featured exquisite ironwork, indicative of the social status of the governor, as well as slave quarters, horse and carriage areas.

Cabildo de Cordoba,
Spanish colonial government building
Group picture in front of the Jesuit Church

Miguel Roca's paved reflections
of colonial buildings
Cathedral de Cordoba

As a key ecclesiastical center for the Roman Catholic Church, Cordoba’s historic center includes the Jesuit Block, designated a World Heritage site in 2000. Our excellent local tour guide took us inside the Jesuit Church where we discovered Felipe Lamaire’s upturned ship-like nave ceiling. Next door we walked the halls of other seventeenth century buildings comprising the National University of Cordoba, including the former high-school of Dr. Reati, now the National College of Monserrat.

As we traveled around Cordoba we began to understand its approach to historic preservation and adaptive use. The University Law School sensitively incorporated a modern addition connecting to a former colonial residence. We also saw an excellent restoration of the Banco de Cordoba. In contrast, the exterior shell of Dr. Reati’s former elementary school encompassed a completely modern shopping center, Patio Olmos, with no traces of the interior historic fabric remaining. One unique method for preserving colonial structures included casting their reflection on the stone pavers in front of the various structures. Designed by Miguel Roca, these reflections are found throughout the pedestrian areas in the historic core of the city.

Within our first couple of days in Cordoba we were introduced to Argentina’s dark history related to its "Dirty War" and associated preservation efforts. A lecture by the leaders of the human rights group HIJOS conveyed the personal histories of sons and daughters of "The Disappeared". We also watched a movie entitled "Chronicle of an Escape" that visually captured the horrific imprisonment experience of the political detainees. Even with this background information, nothing could have substituted for actually visiting what would be the first of several sites where detainees were held. The police station known as "D2", located just steps away from the Jesuit Block, was the site for temporarily detaining prisoners so they could be questioned by the police. Based on how much the police thought the prisoners knew, they were then released or sent to a concentration camp for further investigation. La Perla, one of these camps, was also on our itinerary. Of the approximately 2000 detainees who were sent there, only 200 are known to have survived. The impact of this horrific period was graphically displayed in an art exhibit at the Palacio Ferreya, a 1916 Beaux Arts mansion now housing a museum.

Dr. Fernando Reati of GSU
speaks of his experience as a prisoner
at the D2 police station
Guard house at La Perla
concentration camp

Our first weekend included relaxing road trips to the rural areas surrounding Cordoba. We visited the small town of Alta Gracia and its World Heritage-designated estancia complex constructed in the mid-17th century. Taking over a century to complete, the Jesuit site featured an impressive American Baroque cathedral, a lake with one of the first artificial dams, irrigation, a turban mill, and ironwork production. We then toured the childhood home of Che Guevara and the mountain village of Villa General Belgrano. The following day we went north of Cordoba to visit the Jesus Maria estancia and its incredible museum of pre-colonial art. Santa Catalina provided yet another estancia experience as a privately-owned property. The Dias family hosted an al fresco lunch with Argentine steak and then we toured the original Jesuit church featuring adobe brick and soapstone. We noted the primitive, yet graphic, religious art fulfilling the purpose of "teaching" the illiterate Natives. On Monday, May 25th we celebrated the anniversary of Argentine’s independence from Spain with a fabulous hike in the Gorge of the Condors National Park, and then enjoyed a free day before our overnight bus trip to Buenos Aires.

Estancia Jesus Maria Estancia Alta Gracia

Modern-day gauchos
at Estancia Santa Catalina
Group photo in the fog
at the Gorge of the Condors National Park

We survived the bus trip to Buenos Aires and even got a little sleep. After checking in at the Hotel Duomi we headed out for coffee at the world-renown Café Tortoni. An afternoon bus tour provided an overview of the city’s key landmarks and history. We ended the day at the University of Buenos Aires, meeting architecture Professor Stella Maris Casal who provided an amazing presentation on the city’s history and preservation initiatives.

Historic and modern structures
stand side by side in Buenos Aires
Floralis Generica sculpture

Over the next few days we would have several experiences that helped us understand Buenos Aires as a key setting for the Dirty War. After visiting Atletico, a detention center now covered by an expressway, we toured ESMA&emdash;the most emblematic and notorious of these facilities. Located on seventeen acres in the heart of the city, the Navy training camp was used for systematic, politically-based torture. Later that day we were moved by the new commemorative park on the waterfront with several sculptures and a stark granite wall with 10,000 names of the Disappeared. Finally, we had the first-hand experience of participating in the monthly march with the Mothers of the Disappeared in their effort to keep the memories of their loved ones alive.

ESMA, naval school and
former detention center
Excavation at Club Atletico,
a former detention center

Parque de la Memoria,
with a memorial
naming the disappeared
Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo
We met Prof. Stella Maris Casal again for an amazing tour of the adaptive use project of Puerto Madero. After a dormant period of over half a century, the port’s warehouse district has been rehabilitated as a high-end residential and entertainment area. From a preservation perspective the result is a visually compatible project that still allowed artistic freedom.

Our last day included a short ferry ride to southwestern Uruguay to visit Colonia del Sacramento. Here we experienced South America’s winter season with windy blustery cold temperatures for the first time. Nevertheless we enjoyed the quaint town’s cobblestone streets, tile museum, yacht club and old glue factory warehouse. Our return gave us a stunning view of the skyline of Buenos Aires at sunset.

Rehabilitated warehouses at Puerto Madero
front modern skyscrapers
La Boca neighborhood is painted
with bright colors

Street view at Colonia, Uruguay Lighthouse at Colonia

Amid these cultural highlights we squeezed in other quintessential Argentine experiences including tango, the San Telmo flea market and colorful La Boca with its immigrant history. Of course we ate our way through both cities – from hot empanadas to ice cream in awesome steak and potatoes in every way imaginable at the French Fry Palace in Buenos Aires. We left Argentina with fond memories, great friendships and an appreciation for its rich cultural heritage and preservation ethic.

Group photo in front of the
Palacio del Congreso, Buenos Aires
A tango show at Cafe Tortoni

Story by Susan Conger
Photographs by Susan Conger, Paul Graham, Laura Lembas, and Richard Laub

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