Argentina's own Eden
Written by Sorrel Moseley-Williams
Only in Argentina could a UFO posing as a planetarium nestle between a Carlos Thays-landscaped rose garden and a Japanese oasis complete with koi carp and cherry blossoms. Step inside Buenos Aires’ Tres de Febrero park…
The first tree to down roots in Parque Tres de Febrero may have been an American magnolia – an intoxicatingly fragrant species to draw in on a balmy day – but that came 23 years after General Juan Manuel de Rosas downed his weapons in the Battle of Caseros, toppled by General Urquiza’s troops in 1852.
That bloody moment is long forgotten, and the 62-acre park – comprising three lakes, El Rosedal rose garden, the Galileo Galilei planetarium, harmoniously blooming jacarandas, winding footpaths for body-conscious porte?os to pound, and even a Japanese garden squeezed between two pumping arteries of Figueroa Alcorta and Libertador Avenues in the Palermo district – is a veritable urban lung.
Opened on November 11, 1875, the park, also known as Palermo Woods or Bosques de Palermo, was designed at the request of President Domingo Sarmiento by Polish city planner Jordan Czeslaw Wysocki and Belgian architect Julio Dormal. At the turn of the 20th century, it then passed into the hands of architecture’s man of the moment, France’s Carlos Thays, who also designed Buenos Aires’ Botanical Gardens and Plaza Italia.
An average afternoon sees dog walkers, martial arts practitioners, sun worshippers, and mate drinkers armed with a flask of hot water head to the city’s largest green paradise. And one oasis within that paradise which oozes harmony from every leaf, is the Japanese Garden Cultural and Environmental Centre.
“Standing on the straight red bridge when you first walk in is my favourite part of the garden,” says Sergio Miyagi, the garden’s head of press. “The waterfall is opposite you, koi splash about, and you’re surrounded by more than 600 azaleas – it’s so peaceful.”
The Argentine-Japanese Cultural Foundation reached an agreement with Argentina’s government to build what is now considered the largest such garden outside Japan. A slow Japanese migration began around 100 years ago, but boomed once World War II ended – around 44,000 Japanese immigrants call Argentina home, a tiny community compared with neighbouring Brazil’s two-million-strong Japanese population, yet it is the former who take the title ‘world‘s largest’ with their beloved garden.
Although the original Retiro garden was demolished, the current one blossomed in 1967. Classic components meet to create a harmonious environment, according to Sergio: bridges, water, stones, vegetation and koi carp – there is nothing common-or-garden about this peaceful paradise.
“The community wanted to construct a typical garden, first as a thank you to the Argentines for welcoming us, and second, so future generations have something to enjoy,” Sergio adds. Poplars, eucalyptus, and black pines grown alongside kiri, Paulownia blossom, and ginkgo biloba – the only species to survive the Hiroshima bombings.
In a densely populated city such as Buenos Aires, where a political demonstration can really mess up your day, porte?os understandably get stressed. “It’s wonderful to transmit some Japanese culture – everyone deserves a moment for meditation and contemplation,” he says.
The bridge of decisions
According to Sergio Miyagi, bridges are an important characteristic of a Japanese garden, and the Buenos Aires version is no different. “The zigzag bridge represents decision making. As you cross over it, going one way and then the next, you have no idea what is coming at you, so you therefore need to decide what decisions you make in life,” he says.
The Martians might well have landed in Buenos Aires when you catch a first glimpse of the dome-shaped Galileo Galilei planetarium.
While the four-star-strong Southern Cross twinkles away, the planetarium flirtatiously winks at visitors both day and night, thanks to its protective aluminium covering. US President Richard Nixon gifted the planetarium with a slab of lunar rock from the Apollo XI mission, while local ammonite fossils and fallen meteorites are also on display.
Galileo Galilei planetarium