History of Buenos Aires

Brief history of Buenos Aires summarized

Let’s know the history of Buenos Aires, in a summarized and brief way.

Foundation of Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires was founded twice. A settlement on the current site was briefly established in 1536 by conquistador Pedro de Mendoza, but attacks by local indigenous tribes forced the settlers to move to Asunción, Paraguay in 1539.

By 1541 the site had been burned and abandoned. The harrowing story of the attacks and the overland journey to Asunción was written by one of the survivors, the German mercenary Ulrico Schmidl, after his return to his homeland around 1554. In 1580, another settlement was established, and it lasted.


The city was well placed to control all trade in the region containing present-day Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, and parts of Bolivia, and it prospered.

In 1617 the province of Buenos Aires was stripped of its control by Asunción, and the city received its first bishop in 1620. As the city grew, it became too powerful for the local indigenous tribes to attack, but became the target of European pirates and corsairs.

In the beginning, much of the growth of Buenos Aires was due to illicit trade, as all official trade with Spain had to pass through Lima.


Buenos Aires was established on the banks of the Río de la Plata, which translates to “Río de la Plata.” It was given this upbeat name by early explorers and settlers, who had received some silver trinkets from the local Indians. The river did not produce much silver, and the settlers did not find the true value of the river until much later.

In the 18th century, ranching in the vast grasslands around Buenos Aires became very lucrative, and millions of treated hides were shipped to Europe, where they were made into leather armor, shoes, clothing, and a variety of other products.

This economic boom led to the founding in 1776 of the Viceroyalty of the Platte River, based in Buenos Aires.

The british invasions

Using the alliance between Spain and Napoleonic France as an excuse, Britain attacked Buenos Aires twice in 1806-1807, trying to further weaken Spain while at the same time gaining valuable New World colonies to replace those it had so recently lost in the American Revolution.

The first attack, led by Colonel William Carr Beresford, succeeded in capturing Buenos Aires, although Spanish forces leaving Montevideo were able to retake it some two months later. A second British force arrived in 1807 under the command of Lieutenant General John Whitelocke.

The British took Montevideo but were unable to capture Buenos Aires, which was cleverly defended by urban guerrilla militants. The British were forced to withdraw.


The British invasions had a secondary effect on the city. During the invasions, Spain had left the city to its fate, and it was the citizens of Buenos Aires who took up arms and defended their city.

When Spain was invaded by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1808, the people of Buenos Aires decided that they had seen enough of Spanish rule, and in 1810 established an independent government, although formal independence would not come until 1816.

The fight for Argentine independence, led by José de San Martín, was fought elsewhere and Buenos Aires did not suffer terribly during the conflict.

Unitarians and Federalists

When the charismatic San Martín went into exile in Europe, there was a power vacuum in the new Argentine nation. Shortly after, a bloody conflict broke out in the streets of Buenos Aires.

The country was divided between the Unitarians, who favored a strong central government in Buenos Aires, and the Federalists, who preferred quasi-autonomy for the provinces. As expected, most of the Unitarians were from Buenos Aires and the Federalists from the provinces.

In 1829, federalist strongman Juan Manuel de Rosas seized power, and those Unitarians who did not flee were persecuted by Latin America’s first secret police, the Mazorca. Rosas was removed from office in 1852 and the first Argentine constitution was ratified in 1853.

XIX century

The newly independent country was forced to continue fighting for its existence. England and France tried to conquer Buenos Aires in the mid-19th century, but failed.

Buenos Aires continued to prosper as a commercial port, and the sale of leather continued to boom, especially after the construction of railways that connected the port with the interior of the country, where the cattle ranches were located.

Around the turn of the century, the young city developed a taste for European high culture, and in 1908 the Teatro Colón opened its doors.

Immigration at the beginning of the 20th century

As the city industrialized in the early 20th century, it opened its doors to immigrants, mostly from Europe. Many Spanish and Italians arrived, and their influence is still strong in the city.

There were also Welsh, British, Germans and Jews, many of whom passed through Buenos Aires on their way to establish settlements in the interior.

Many more Spaniards arrived during and shortly after the Spanish Civil War (1936 to 1939). The Perón regime (1946 to 1955) allowed Nazi war criminals to emigrate to Argentina, including the infamous Dr. Mengele, although they did not arrive in sufficient numbers to significantly change the nation’s demographics.

Recently, Argentina has seen migration from Korea, China, Eastern Europe, and other parts of Latin America. Argentina celebrates Immigrant’s Day on September 4 since 1949.

The Peron years

Juan Perón and his famous wife Evita came to power in the early 1940s and became president in 1946. Perón was a very strong leader, blurring the lines between president-elect and dictator.

Unlike many strongmen, however, Perón was a liberal who strengthened the unions (but kept them in check) and improved education.

The working class adored him and Evita, who opened schools and clinics and gave state money to the poor. Even after he was deposed in 1955 and forced into exile, he remained a powerful force in Argentine politics.

He even triumphantly returned to stand for election in 1973, which he won, although he died of a heart attack after a year in power.

The bombing of the Plaza de Mayo

On June 16, 1955, Buenos Aires experienced one of its darkest days. Anti-Peronese forces in the army, seeking to dislodge him from power, ordered the Argentine Navy to bomb Plaza de Mayo, the city’s central square. It was believed that this act would precede a general coup.

Navy planes bombed and strafed the square for hours, killing 364 people and wounding hundreds more. The Plaza had been attacked because it was a meeting place for pro-Peronese citizens.

The army and air force did not join the attack, and the coup attempt failed. Perón was ousted some three months later by another revolt that included the entire armed forces.

The ideological conflict in the 1970s

In the early 1970s, communist rebels, following the example of Fidel Castro’s takeover of Cuba, attempted to stir up revolts in several Latin American nations, including Argentina.

They were countered by right-wing groups that were equally destructive. They were responsible for several incidents in Buenos Aires, including the Ezeiza massacre, when 13 people were killed during a pro-Perón rally.

In 1976, a military junta ousted Isabel Perón, Juan’s wife, who had been vice president when she died in 1974. The military soon began to crack down on dissidents, beginning the period known as “The Dirty War.”

The Dirty War and Operation Condor

The Dirty War is one of the most tragic episodes in the entire history of Latin America. The military government, in power from 1976 to 1983, launched a ruthless crackdown on suspected dissidents.

Thousands of citizens, mainly in Buenos Aires, were brought in for questioning, and many of them “disappeared,” never to be heard from again. Their basic rights were denied, and many families still do not know what happened to their loved ones.

Many estimates place the number of executed citizens at around 30,000. It was a time of terror when citizens feared their government more than anything else.

The Argentine Dirty War was part of Operation Condor, which was an alliance of the right-wing governments of Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Brazil to share information and help each other with the secret police.

The “Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo” is an organization of mothers and relatives of those who disappeared during this time: their goal is to get answers, locate their loved ones or their remains, and hold the architects of the Dirty War accountable.


The military dictatorship ended in 1983, and Raúl Alfonsín, a lawyer and publisher, was elected president. Alfonsín shocked the world by quickly turning on the military leaders who had been in power for the past seven years, ordering trials and a commission of inquiry.

Investigators soon uncovered 9,000 well-documented cases of “disappearances,” and trials began in 1985. All the generals and architects of the dirty war, including a former president, General Jorge Videla, were convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

They were pardoned by President Carlos Menem in 1990, but the cases remain unsolved, and there is a possibility that some could return to jail.

Recent years

Buenos Aires was given autonomy to elect its own mayor in 1993. Previously, the mayor was appointed by the president. Just as the people of Buenos Aires were putting the horrors of the Dirty War behind them, they fell victim to an economic catastrophe.

In 1999, a combination of factors, including a falsely inflated exchange rate between the Argentine peso and the US dollar, led to a severe recession and people began to lose faith in the peso and in Argentine banks.

At the end of 2001 there was a run on the banks and in December 2001 the economy collapsed. Angry protesters in the streets of Buenos Aires forced President Fernando de la Rúa to flee the presidential palace in a helicopter.

For a time, unemployment reached 25%. The economy eventually stabilized, but not before many businesses and citizens went bankrupt.

Buenos Aires today

Today, Buenos Aires is once again calm and sophisticated, its political and economic crises a thing of the past. It is considered very safe and is once again a center for literature, film and education.

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