A Night with Dante

A cool thing about Buenos Aires is the heavy Italian influence found in almost all of the restaurants (Pizza is Argentinian fare) and in the language. You say Ciao instead of Adios, and when in doubt my faltering Italiano passed for decent communication without too many strange looks.

It seems fitting that the first sight we took in on our first night was the Palacio Barolo, a beautiful building that was built by an Italian immigrant in homage to Dante’s Divine Comedy. Although the building only took four years to be completed, every aspect of the architecture is a symbolic reference to Dante’s great work. The building is 100 meteres tall (one meter for every conto, or stanza, of the Comedy), there are 22 floors divided into three sections reflective of hell, purgatory and heaven – the major themes present in the book. Indeed, even the details on the ceiling and lampposts held meaning – nine beasts and columns on the “hell” level for example. The columns and concentric circles that the stair case surrounds give a feeling of flight and elevation, essential elements of Dante’s eventual rise from hell to heaven.

Hell looks pretty good

From Hell looking Up

At the top there is a working light signal – an urban lighthouse if you will – which the architect used to communicate with his brother who built a twin building in Montevideo, Uruguay. Our excellent tour guide, Tomas, took small groups up to the very top and seated us around the huge light before turning it on to demonstrate how it worked, it seems particularly useful for when the Argentinian police need to call Batman.

After descending back to Purgatory we did the only thing thinkable: enjoyed some wine created specifically for the Palacio Barolo straight from a Mendoza vineyard. The tour itself was fantastic, despite the fact that we were the only English speakers Tomas ensured to pull us aside after each section of the tour and give us the rundown en Ingles. We also were the only touring folks under the age of 50…but who doesn’t love some Dante on Friday night?

Not feeling quite ready to stop the Italian-Argentinian culture train we grabbed some pizza por llevar (take-away) and enjoyed the sounds of a Buenos Aires – dogs barking, yelling and laughter, sirens and the occasional protest march – night from our balcony.

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