Every now and then, it is refreshing to get away from the hectic life of a big city and find that inner peace that keeps you going. Lately, I find myself more attracted to rural settings rather than busy urban areas. So when my parents suggested we visit the town of Capilla de Señor during one of my visits to Argentina, I leapt at the chance of spending quality time with them and escaping the madness of Buenos Aires.
Capilla de Señor is a quiet rural town located about 50 miles from the capital city of Argentina. It was the first town to be declared “Bien de Interés Histórico Nacional,” a protected historic town of national interest.
In the 1720s, Francisco Casco de Mendoza owned vast tracts of land in this area. He built a small chapel for his family in 1727. His son, Mayoriano Casco, built a bigger church to serve the people who lived in neighboring estancias. He also divided the surrounding land into plots and sold them. He followed the traditional Spanish grid layout.
The town grew organically around the church. As it was never officially founded, it is difficult to pinpoint the exact date. It is believed the origins of the town date back to between 1755 and 1758. Interestingly, although it was still a hamlet in 1768, it already had three pulperías, a cross between bar and general store. The 1869 census shows a population of 1116.
As evidence to the town’s importance, Mr. Manuel Cruz founded the first newspaper of the province of Buenos Aires, El Monitor de la Campaña (The Rural Monitor,) in 1871.
We parked the car on one of the sides of the town square, plaza San Martin, and headed to the Tourist Office, where we got some brochures. The plaza is a lovely place for a leisurely stroll along its many paths. Or sit under the shade of its many trees and plan your visit, maybe even watch a gaucho on horseback trot by. Or bicker, like my parents did until they agreed on a course of action.
We started with the church. The architects Hunt and Sherarder designed and built the current building in 1866. Eclectic in style, the church has one nave, vaulted ceilings and a beautiful gold leaf altar with a colonial altarpiece. There are tons of natural light that bounces off the white walls and highlights the gold leaf. Two Irish priests are interred in the church. It speaks volumes of how influential the Irish community was in the area in the 19th century.
The house where Mr. Manuel Cruz lived now houses the Museo del Periodismo Bonaerense, the Buenos Aires Journalism Museum. The house is a typical adobe construction with a traditional zaguán (hallway), four rooms, a kitchen, an inner veranda and a colonial water well. The highlights of the collection are the original French printing press used to print El Monitor de la Campaña newspaper, various typewriters, and original documents.
The kitchen has a brick bread oven and a British washing machine from 1857. That, I must admit, was fun to look at and try to work out how to operate. It was used at the local hotel in the 19th century and was donated to the museum.
A very short drive away is the municipal cemetery. My dad took a lot of persuading; he does not believe in visiting cemeteries for fun. The Cementerio Municipal opened in 1838. Some of the mausoleums are works of funerary art. A series of vaults line two of the original walls. What’s remarkable about them is that the headstones are written in French and in English, another indication of how influential the Irish community was here. I found them puzzling at first, since I assumed they’d be written in Spanish. Then I remembered the Irish connection.
A cholera outbreak ravaged Capilla del Señor in 1868. It is believed an itinerant fruit seller unwittingly introduced the cholera. He sold out his infected produce during the day and died that night. The cholera spread quickly around town. The death rate was so high and fast that there wasn’t enough time to dig individual graves, so the victims were buried in a mass grave in the middle of the cemetery. Actually, not everybody. The more affluent used their family vaults. One was particularly heartbreaking: it listed the names of family members, especially children, who succumbed to cholera on the same week.
It’s not all gloom and doom in Capilla del Señor. We went down to the river, which had burst its banks because of heavy rains, and enjoyed even more peace and quiet. We munched on the terrific facturas we bought from a pastry shop located inside a house’s garage. The riverside is an ideal place to bring a picnic and spend the day, or even pitch a tent and stay overnight. Personally, I’d rather stay at one of the many estancias, cattle ranches, which provide room and board. The homemade food and a soft bed beat the heck out of a sleeping bag and coffee burnt over the campfire.
How to get there from Buenos Aires
By car: take RN 8 (route 8) and then route 39.
By bus: take the 57 bus from Palermo. There’s a direct service (one and a half hours), and one via Pilar which takes considerably longer.
By train: take the Mitre line in Retiro to Victoria. From there, take the train to Capilla del Señor.
Oficina de Turismo (Tourist Office): Rivadavia 506 – Tel.: (02323)-491347. Open Mon. to Fri. 8 AM to 8 PM. Sat., Sun., and holidays: 10 AM to 6 PM.