San Telmo is a bohemian area of Buenos Aires. After a yellow fever epidemic in 1871 caused an exodus of the middle and upper class, it became home to the working class and immigrants. Most of the attractions I found in San Telmo are either on or within a block or two of Calle Defensa.
I started my exploration of the neighborhood’s southern end, Parque Paseo Lezama, and walked north on Calle Defensa. At the corner of Calle Defensa and Av. San Juan, there are two museums, Museo de Arte Moderno and MACBA (Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Buenos Aires). I wasn’t interested in visiting either, but just letting you know they exist.
I continued up Calle Defensa to the heart of San Telmo, Plaza Dorrego. It might have looked dead at the time, but at weekends I was told it comes alive with tango dancing and an antique and craft market. In fact, Calle Defensa is full of antique shops. Plaza Dorrego is also surrounded by several restaurants and cafés, some of them offering tango shows.
Just to the east of Plaza Dorrego is the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Belén – Parroquia de San Pedro González Telmo. This church was built in 1806 and is the most important one in the area. Around the corner is a small concrete football field with some great street art on the back wall.
Walking north along Calle Defensa, there’s lots of antique shops, some restaurants, and a the occasional interesting building. Amid some of the ugly graffiti along the street, there’s some very nice street art.
Near the northern part of San Telmo, intersecting with Calle Defensa, is my favorite street in the neighborhood, Pasaje San Lorenzo. This tiny street has some beautiful homes and some of the best street art in San Telmo.
The building on Calle Defensa facing Pasaje San Lorenzo is El Zanjón de Granados. It’s a museum about the “urban archaeology” of Buenos Aires. It looked very interesting, but was unfortunately closed when I walked by. The website has a schedule of tours available.
Probably the most interesting building in all of San Telmo is also located on Pasaje San Lorenzo. Casa Mínima is a small, narrow house built in the 1880s by freed slaves on a piece of land granted to them by their former master. Guided tours are available through El Zanjón.
A couple blocks east of Calle Defensa down Av. Independencia is Plazoleta Coronel Manuel de Olazábal. An important sculpture, Canto al Trabajo (Ode to the Worker), is located there. It was built in 1927 by Rogelio Yrurtia. Also on the plaza is the imposing Ministerio de Agroindustria building.