Perhaps one of the most interesting places that I found when I visited Buenos Aires was the incredible Palacio Barolo, a 22-floor building mostly in white completed in 1923 when Argentina was living in a booming economy. At the time, and for the next 13 years, it was the tallest building in Buenos Aires at 100 metres in height.
Today you can visit it and take a tour, stopping on several floors heading up to the very top where there is a lighthouse-style light. It’s guided, in various languages, and you certainly get the feeling that this is more than just a building. It has an uneasy soul, you might think it’s a building from Ghostbusters. Or an insane asylum – there’s an awful lot of white painting, small doorways and thin corridors.
But if you have any interest in architecture, then this really is not one to miss whilst in Buenos Aires. Although the Casa Rosada and Palacio Paz may be grander and far more opulent, the Palacio Barolo is completely different to any of the historical buildings I went to in South America. It’s something out of this world.
It was designed by the Italian architect, Mario Palanti. His inspiration was Dante’s Divine Comedy, a story about hell, purgatory and heaven, and thus was the vision of the building. The basement was supposed to represent hell, and indeed the was glass flooring in the past coloured red on the ground floor. Floors 14-22 for paradise or heaven, the middle was purgatory.
Our tour guide was informative and presented very well, and we soon had a chance to explore the building. Up we went to the fifth floor. The lifts themselves were old and special. The ground floor had high ceilings and you could look up to the fourteenth floor in the middle. We of the tour group stood around on the circular balcony on floor fourteen looking down from whence we had come.
This floor was very white, as I said earlier, it felt a bit like an asylum. Our guide was eager to point out the way it had been designed to let as much natural light in as possible. There were many doors to small offices – the building still functions as an office building – they looked quite pokey and sometimes oddly shaped. I imagined a few weeks working in an office there and you would definitely feel like you’d been committed!
But there was only one way for the tour to continue, and that was UP. And up we went, via some stairs. Curling around, the higher we got, the narrower the stair well was, until we got to the observation level. Here we got an amazing view of the city of Buenos Aires. We were in the tower by now, and it wasn’t awfully roomy, but little did we realise – we were going further up.
I am not a fan of heights, as readers of this blog surely know, but I pressed on. It really was a tight, curling squeeze as we ascended further. And then we came out in this glass lighthouse sort of place – basically the top of a lighthouse, with light and all.
Apparently there were sister buildings to be built, one in Montevideo and the beams of the lights were supposed to be seen from the other. I don’t know if that was even feasible, Montevideo is across the Rio de La Plata and then quite a few kilometres further east. Looking at a map it’s got to be more than 100km in a straight line. However, Colonia de Sacramento is much closer (both are in Uruguay).
Up at the top a freaked out a little as our host chatted about the building and politics. We sat around the light – about four in the group didn’t want to go any higher but we still have a few – on little cushions. It certainly was a unique experience!
Then we saw some old bits and pieces, with the chance to dress up in old clothes like we were back in the 20s. There was also a rooftop space on the other side of the building about two-thirds of the way up.
I loved it, it was the most interesting building that I visited in South America without a doubt, boy it would have been fun to be left alone to run up and down and explore solo! Thanks for visiting today – May the Journey Never End!