In 2016 Argentina celebrates the 200-year anniversary of the country’s independence. Over 300 years under Spanish rule and plenty of skirmishes all along the Viceroyalty of the River Plate did not stop these peoples from becoming their own proud nation.
Among many events that will this year celebrate this special date in the country’s history the Legislature of the city of Buenos Aires (Legislatura Porteňa) has approved a project[i] presented by Legislator Eduardo Santamarina in order to install a commemorative plaque at the Torre Monumental (called by the locals Torre de los Ingleses) in the central neighbourhood of Retiro.[ii]
The Tower, situated at Avenida Libertador 49, was a present offered by the local British Community who in 1909 wished to commemorate the anniversary of the Revolución de Mayo (25th May 1810), when autonomy from Spain was first attained in the River Plate. The Congress accepted and sanctioned Ley Nro 6.368.Until the emblematic Obelisk in the city centre was built the Tower was a notable symbol among the eclectic but mostly European architecture of the bourgeoning city.
The architect in charge of the project was Ambrose Poynter, grandson of the founder of the Royal Institute of British Architects. Most of the material for the construction and the specialists who were to build it came from England. The project was given to the direction of Hopkins y Gardom and although delayed due to the onset of the First World War and difficulties vacating the plot, the inaugural stone was finally laid in May 1910.
Could it be no accident that this location was chosen to build the Tower? The area had long been very significant in the development of trade in the city and its transport connections nationally and internationally. Retiro is right next to the port of Buenos Aires and it is the hub for one of the most important railway lines. It is also quite extraordinary to think that it was in this very same area where the slave trade in the River Plate-mainly led by the British- took place.
The Tower has 8 floors and is 75.50 metres high. The views from the terrace are impressive and the clock is undoubtedly its main outstanding feature. The official inauguration took place on May 24th 1916 with Victorino de la Plaza, President of Argentina and British Minister Reginal Tower both present. The Amethyst war ship was at the time anchored in the port of Buenos Aires and consequently many of the crew and its Captain, A. M. Faquhar, could also attend the event.
The design of the Tower is characteristically rich. Among the many ornaments and decoration visitors will see the Tudor Rose, the Welsh Dragon, the popular Irish Shamrock, and the emblems of Argentina and Great Britain. On the main entrance we find an inscription gifted by the British Community to “the great Argentine people”, the British Community, 25th May 1810-1910” (“al gran pueblo argentino”, los residentes británicos, salud, 25 de mayo 1810-1910″). It is also interesting to note-given the tumultuous history in the relationship between these nations-one of the prominent front inscriptions “Honi soit qui mal y pense” (“Shame to whom shall wrongly think of this”).[iii]
The magnificent clock on the seventh floor of the Tower is also of typical British design; by jewellers Gillett & Johnston, from Croydon in England. It is said to be a small replica of the Big Ben in London. The pendulum weighs over 100 kilograms and the largest of the bells weighs around 7000.
The relationship between Argentina and Great Britain has certainly been to these days one of many sweet and sour moments. However, it is still possible to distinguish individual strengths, and this charming architectural legacy is one of them.
By Patricia C Prada Jimenez
[i] Despacho Nº 0023/16: Comisión de Cultura. Resolución: Colocación de una placa en homenaje al Centenario de la inauguración de la Torre Monumental. (Exp. 336-D-2016, Diputado Santamarina).
Artículo 1º.- La Legislatura de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires manifiesta su beneplácito al cumplirse el centenario de la inauguración de la Torre Monumental.
Art. 2º.- Colóquese una placa conmemorativa en la Torre Monumental, situada en Avenida del Libertador 49, entre la Avenida Ramos Mejía y San Martín, con el siguiente texto:
“LA LEGISLATURA DE LA CIUDAD AUTONOMA DE BUENOS AIRES A LA TORRE MONUMENTAL. AL CONMEMORARSE EL CENTENARIO DE SU INAUGURACIÓN 1916 – 24 DE MAYO – 2016”
[ii] Torre Monumental was the official name given to the Tower during the Guerra de Las Malvinas (Falklands War). It’s worth mentioning as well that the square where the monument stands known as Plaza Británica was also renamed due to the disputes over the Islands andbecame later Plaza Fuerza Aérea Argentina
[iii] “Deshonor al que piense mal de esto”
Useful sources and photos
Photos courtesy of Government of the City and Hermann Luyken
Today the Tower houses the city’s Museum Centre (Centro de Informes de Museos)