The Plaza de Mayo is as fundamental to Argentine political history as La Boca and homesick immigrants are to tango. The square is a political hub, financial and administrative center and throughout history has been a symbol of disaster, rebellion and hope.
In May 1810, the May Revolution began in what was then called the Plaza de la Victoria. Six years later Argentina won independence from Spain and the square was named, ‘May Square.’
Among the three important historic buildings on the plaza are:
• the government house, the Casa Rosada, the ‘Pink House’
• the Cabildo, the former seat of the Colonial government
• and the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral — now famous as Pope Francis’ former parish.
A Place to Convene
Common sights in the Plaza de Mayo are veterans of the Malvinas/Falklands conflict, who have a permanent protest camp set up.
There are also workers going about their business, political marches, protests, gawping tourists taking snaps, TV camera crews, and eccentric old folks feeding large flocks of pigeons.
⇒ To learn all the history of Plaza de Mayo with a knowledgeable local, sign up for a two-hour walking tour tour of Plaza de Mayo
Peronism in the Plaza: Perón and Evita
One of the most dramatic events to change Argentine history occurred here on October 17th, 1945, today celebrated as ‘Loyalty Day.’
Thousands gathered in the square to demand the release of Juan Domingo Perón, who held an important government position at the time but had been imprisoned by his own party – they viewed his growing popularity as a threat.
This sealed Perón’s fate as a working class hero.
He was released by the government after this protest and became president a year later.
Following Perón’s election it became tradition for families of that political persuasion to gather in the square on national holidays, particularly on May 1st, (Workers’ Day), and on May 25 (May Revolution Day).
President Perón and his wife Maria Eva Duarte, affectionately known as Evita, famously delivered their speeches from the balcony of the Casa Rosada, to the thousands of supporters, known as descamisados (shirtless ones), gathered in the square.
Bombings in the Plaza de Mayo
A tragic event in the square’s history occurred on April 15th, 1953 when two members of the opposition party, Roque Carranza, planted two bombs during a political gathering. Five people died and 95 were injured.
Two years later, on June 16th the square was bombed once again by the Argentine Air Force in an attempt to overthrow Perón’s government in what is remembered as La Masacre de la Plaza de Mayo (May Square Massacre).
Thirty-two planes shot over 9.5 tons of shells on the square and although the death count has been subject to debate, it is now thought to be 321, and more than 700 injured.
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Today visitors can still see bullet holes on some of the buildings surrounding the plaza. The coup attempt was an abject failure, but three months later, the armed forces joined together and overthrew Perón’s government in another attack.
The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo
These are women whose children were ‘disappeared’ by the military dictatorship (1976-1983).
The mothers demanded to know where their children were and began to march around the May Pyramid in the middle of the square wearing handkerchiefs with their children’s’ names embroidered on them.
The weekly marches started in 1977 and continue today – you can see the mothers and their supporters every Thursday afternoon in the plaza.
Recent Clashes & Cacerolazo’s in the Plaza
More fresh in the mind of Argentines, are images of the plaza during the 2001 economic crisis, or corralito, where thousands of people banged pots and pans (in a protest known as a cacerolazo) in the Plaza de Mayo to protest withdrawal clamps and devaluation of their savings after the government converted them into the much weaker Argentine currency.
Just as Isabel, Perón’s second wife had done in 1976, the sitting President, Fernando De la Rúa famously ‘escaped’ from the Casa Rosada by helicopter after resigning.
Tens of thousands still sometimes fill the plaza and surrounding area in protest to the issue of the day, be it the ailing economy, corruption or Covid restrictions.
In November 2020 when Diego Maradona died, despite restrictions on gatherings, thousands assembled here to see view his casket, which was in the lobby of the Pink House.
Across from the Casa Rosada, at at the corner of Bolivar and Rivadavia, is the Cabildo.
This building is the former government house of the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata. It was first constructed in 1610.
It was once eleven columns wide, but six columns were destroyed to make way for the avenues on other side, in an early 20th century plan to emulate the urban layout of Paris.
Today it is the National Museum of the Cabildo and May Revolution.
Outside, visitors can see soldiers from the the 1st Infantry Patricios Regiment, the oldest branch of the Argentine military.
The changing of the guard is every hour. The force was formed in 1806 — ten years before Argentina gained independence — to protect the city against British invaders.
Tours in & around the Plaza de Mayo
While in the plaza visitors can take a free tour of the Casa Rosada and the Casa Rosada Museum, (originally called the Bicentenary Museum) around the corner. Visitors can also check out the Museum of the Cabildo, and visit the Cathedral, which despite its neoclassical facade contains a mix of architectural styles in its interior.