Port of Buenos Aires
Review and History

The Port of Buenos Aires rests on an estuary of the Rio de la Plata in Argentina about 240 kilometers from the river's mouth to the Atlantic Ocean. An important seaport, the Port of Buenos Aires is about seven kilometers north-northwest of the Port of Dock Sud and about 56 kilometers west-northwest of the Port of La Plata. In 2001, over 2.7 million people lived in the city of Buenos Aires, but the larger metropolitan area was home to over 12 million souls.

Buenos Aires at Night

Buenos Aires at Night

Photo by Luis Argerich

The Port of Buenos Aires is Argentina's cultural, industrial, commercial, and financial heart. Its connections to Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay by a system of navigable rivers make it a distribution hub for much of the South American continent. Some sources report that the Port of Buenos Aires is the 13th largest urban economy in the world. The city has a large and diverse service sector and busy advertising, finance, construction, and real estate industries.

Manufacturing is an important component of the Port of Buenos Aires economy that produces meat, dairy, wool, leather, grain, and tobacco products, as are agricultural and industrial activities outside the city limits. Other major industries in the Port of Buenos Aires include oil refining, machine building, automobile manufacturing, and metalworking as well as manufacturing of textiles, clothing, beverages, and chemicals. The Pampa Humeda to the west of the Port of Buenos Aires is the richest agricultural area in Argentina. The Port of Buenos Aires is a popular tourist destination, and the city is full of luxury hotels, quaint bed and breakfasts, and hostels.

Port History

In 1536, explorer Pedro de Mendoza, the first governor or the region, founded the Port of Buenos Aires, but insufficient supplies and attacks by the indigenous peoples of the area forced the settlers to move upriver to Asuncion. It was 50 years before the Port of Buenos Aires settlement was re-established by Juan de Garay in 1580.

The Port of Buenos Aires grew slowly for almost two centuries. While it was a good port, Spain's royalty was only interested in ports that could support international trade, and they gave the Port of Lima the monopoly on trade with Spanish merchants. It took about two years to ship goods for sale to the port in Lima, making the Port of Buenos Aires continued to be a minor regional center.

Buenos Aires 1815

Buenos Aires 1815

Lantern slide titled "Buenos Aires. Shipping and Docks from Adriana Principal, or Customs House"
Photo by Oregon State University Archives

With little interest coming from the Spanish viceroyalty, the Port of Buenos Aires developed its own distinct character based on ranching and smuggling, and it thrived. The rivers supported many new settlements, farms, and ranches. By the early 1700s, the "portenos" were exporting cereals, grain, cattle hides, and dried beef throughout Argentina, Brazil, and the Caribbean. The British were the Port of Buenos Aires' main customers and investors.

By the middle 1700s, almost 20 thousand people lived in the Port of Buenos Aires. The Port of Buenos Aires' first harbor was silted over, and large vessels had to anchor offshore. However, the region enjoyed significant economic success. Finally recognized by Spanish royalty, the Port of Buenos Aires became the capital for the newly-created Viceroyalty of the Rio de la Plata with the goal of securing more tax revenues and protecting the Spanish colonies from rival nations, particularly Great Britain.

The Port of Buenos Aires was now allowed to handle Spanish trade, and it became an important export point for silver from the mines in Peru. Again, the city flourished. By 1810, over 42 thousand people lived there, and Spain was the Port of Buenos Aires's most important trading partner.

<i>Port of Buenos Aires in 1834</i>

Port of Buenos Aires in 1834

Oil on canvas by Richard Adams. Currently in the National Museum of Fine Arts in Buenos Aires.
Photo by Richard Adams

Two different economic groups had emerged in the Port of Buenos Aires. One group continued agricultural activities and traded with Great Britain, Cuba, and Brazil. The other group was recognized by the Spanish crown and developed regional interests.

In 1808, Napoleon defeated Spain and gave his brother, Joseph Bonaparte, the Spanish crown. In 1810, the Port of Buenos Aires's town council broke its ties with the Spanish and declared allegiance to a new local ruling party. In 1816, provinces outside the Port of Buenos Aires declared independence, and the Port of Buenos Aires became the capital of the United Provinces of the Rio de la Plata.

Other Spanish provinces in Paraguay, Bolivia, and Uruguay did not join the new nation. For some 30 years, an uneasy federalism held the struggling nations together with the Port of Buenos Aires as the central authority over relatively autonomous interior provinces. An 1851 insurrection unseated the porteno leader, Juan Manual de Rosas, but the rebels could not organize the nation. After a decade, military leader Bortolome Mitre organized a strong central government in the Port of Buenos Aires, and it became the federal capital in 1880.

ARA <i>Presidente Sarmiento</i>

ARA Presidente Sarmiento

Now a museum ship, originally built as a training ship for the Argentine Navy. She is considered to be the last intact cruising training ship from the 1890s.
Photo by Micah MacAllen

Industrialization and growing capitalism in Europe brought many changes to the new country and to the Port of Buenos Aires. Argentina's rich agricultural plains became more economically valuable. Great Britain invested capital, and laborers came from Italy and Spain to transform the land. Before World War I began, Argentina and the Port of Buenos Aires were one of the world's biggest exporters of agricultural products.

These changes brought about major changes in the character of the Port of Buenos Aires. The population was transformed by the immigrants who, unable to buy the agricultural lands they hoped for, settled in the city. Fortunately, the Port of Buenos Aires was becoming busier, and demands for workers increased. Immigrants from Germany and Eastern Europe joined those from Spain and Italy.

Massive wealth became focused in a few individuals and in the State. Great mansions arose, and the Port of Buenos Aires became known as an international center with a reputation for vast riches. The layout of the city changed as well. The new rich wanted the Port of Buenos Aires to be the "Paris of South America." They built a new subway system and broad avenues to celebrate the country's hundredth anniversary.

Opera Bay

Opera Bay

Discoteca Divino en Puerto Madero
Photo by Ana Carmen

The infrastructure that was created in the Port of Buenos Aires before World War I endures. The avenues built in the 1920s and 1930s still carry the majority of traffic. Only one new subway line has been added in the Port of Buenos Aires since World War II. The city strains to meet the demands of an ever-increasing population with outdated facilities.

After 1930, foreign immigration to the Port of Buenos Aires all but stopped. Migrants from the interior and from neighboring countries replaced the international sources of labor, creating large shantytowns called villas miserias on the city's outskirts. Racial differences in the Port of Buenos Aires became more pronounced, leading to social conflict. Many of the new residents, most of the mestizos, supported Juan Peron when a 1943 military coup brought him to power.

During the second half of the 20th Century, the Port of Buenos Aires lacked the economic and political resources to build the rings of superhighways common to most urban centers. The city streets became clogged with automobiles, and gridlock became a common irritant. The Metropolitan Railroad constructed in 1979 brought some relief for the traffic problems. City and suburban authorities coordinated their efforts and hired Japanese companies to electrify and replace the old railroad cars.

Puente de la Mujer

Puente de la Mujer

Photo by Chronus

The new migrants to the Port of Buenos Aires created a new underclass of uneducated and unskilled workers. The service sector has not been able to provide enough jobs for them. Their standard of living remains terribly low, and urban poverty has been the major problem facing the nation and the Port of Buenos Aires as it moves into the 21st Century.

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