After reading the article, I decided to check out the barrio with my friend Jake, who was leaving Bs. As. and need to squeeze in some exploring. I also didn't want to go alone since many travel books and articles claim that Barracas is not the safest area.
To convince Jake to come along, I told him a "little" lie. I told him that Barracas has a big Sunday market where he can get some last-minute souvenirs. When we got to the neighborhood I confessed that the mentioned market was actually a bird market which ended at 2 pm. We arrived at our destination around 3....
When we got off the train, it was obvious why the barrio is considered dangerous. The train station is located in a desolate area right next to the freeway and warehouses and we would have to walk 9 blocks with no people in sight to get to Pasaje Lanin. In order to avoid any unwanted adventures, we decided to take a longer route and make a loop through the neighborhood rather than the "scenic" warehouse stroll which would have been much faster. We also wanted to get a feel for the barrio.
The walk through sleepy Barracas on Sunday afternoon was very mellow and charming, but I wouldn't say the neighborhood was bohemian or up-and-coming as the NY Times article claimed. It seemed like any standard working or middle-class neighborhood of Buenos Aires. However, the history of Barracas will tell you that it was nothing like it is today.
The name Barracas comes from the word barraca, which refers to a temporary construction of houses using rudimentary materials. Throughout most of the 19th century, the neighbourhood was home to some of the wealthiest families of the city and housing many of the city's most famous stores. The yellow fever epidemic which broke out in late 1860's forced the rich families along with the middle class to relocate to the north of the city, leaving the neighborhood to become the working-class area which remains today.
Although many of the wealthy Argentine families retained properties in Barracas during much the 20th century, they were used as rental units. Immigrants, especially Italian and Polish, started to settle in the barrio to work in the factories for which the area was beginning to be known for. Factories dominated the economy of the barrio and were an important source of employment. After 1980, the factories of Barracas began to close and today many have been converted into loft spaces of varying prices and qualities.
One of the attractions in Barracas, which is hard to miss, is Iglesia Santa Felicitas. But this beautiful church has a sad story. It is dedicated to Felicitas Guerrero who was considered one of the most beautiful women in Republic of Argentina.
Born in 1846 into a wealthy family, at the age of 16 Felicitas married Martin de Alzaga who was 35 years her senior. Although her family was against the marriage, they didn't interfere because the suitor was wealthy and owned a lot of land. The marriage produced a son--Feliz Alzaga--who died in 1869 at the age of 6 due to yellow fever. The following year, Felicitas's husband died, leaving her with all his possession. At 26, Felicitas was beautiful and wealthy, attracting many suitors.
Felicitas's tragic death came by the hand of a possessive lover--Enrique Ocampo. Enrique, being jealous of hwe affair with Samuel Saenz Valiente, shot her in the head on January 29, 1872 and later shot himself. Felicitas died on January 30 and was berried in the famous Recoletta Cemetery.
The Guerrero family, shocked by the death of their daughter, built a church in her memory in the same place where she was shot. Felicitas's death and the construction of the church produced many legends.
One legend states that if you leave a handkerchief on the gate of St. Felicitas overnight, in the morning you'll find it wet with Felicitas's tears.
Some people that live in the area also claim that on the morning of January 30, they see a weeping figure of a woman dressed in white wandering around the church.
My favorite legend has turned into a local tradition. Over the years, women have been coming to the Igleasia Santa Felicitas on January 30th to tie a ribbon on the gate. Doing so will help them find their true love. A different version states that women tie ribbons to the bars of the doors and windows of their houses to attract the ghost. According to the legend, if a woman who is in love holds on really tightly to the bars that have been slightly touched by the ghost, she will keep her loved one. And if the woman is single and doesn't have a love interest in her life, she find one and fall in love.
On that warm winter day, the church was beautiful and majestic. We stood outside the gate and marveled at the architecture, but unfortunately we didn't get a chance to go inside because the church was closed. So we decided to find Pasaje Lanin ( luckily we didn't encounter any problems walking there) since that was the main reason for coming to Barracas.
Pasaje Lanin is only two blocks long and has been getting a lot of attention due to a local artist named Marino Santa Maria. His studio, which is in the same house he was born in, is also on that street (Lanin 33).
Santa Maria has been transforming the neighborhood since 1998 by painting all the houses in different colors. As the colors faded with time, he decided to apply colorful mosaic to the buildings using a technique called trencadis (also called pique assiette). This same technique, which is created from broken tile shards, has also been widely used by a famous Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi.
When Marino started transforming the street, it caused a lot of conflict, not because the neighbors were mad, but because they were fighting over whose house would be decorated next.
Santa Maria's project is even sponsored by UNESCO's Ministry of Culture and Education (I actually applied for a position in this dept....) and this "open air museum" has been credited with bringing attention and attracting people to the barrio that is not listed on many tourist maps. Pasaje Lanin now also hosts an open-air weekend arts festival July through December.
We slowly strolled through the colorful and lively street taking a million pictures as the residents stared at us. No house was the same color nor had the same mosaic design. All the houses had their own personalities and erupting colors which made the building fronts seem three-dimensional.
I really enjoyed my time in Barracas and learning about it's history and art. Would I consider this an up and coming neighborhood? Probably not. Would I go back to check out the art festival? Absolutely!