Buenos Aires - - Thursday 13 De May

Home Argentine History Obelisk: the history of Buenos Aires in heaven

Obelisk: the history of Buenos Aires in heaven

Stainless background of the most important Argentine events since 1936, the highest Buenos Aires symbol combined the vision of a modern city with the voices of the past. And from the future.


One of the greatest Argentine symbols was inaugurated on May 23, 1936. It took only 31 days for Alberto Prebisch's Obelisk to change the city's reference forever. In their neighbors and in the world.  Hated and loved from the first stone, a clear foreign body that landed in a city with cosmopolitan craving, this monument placed on the site of the first argentinian flag raising in Buenos Aires condenses the convoluted feeling of the capital of an empire that never was. So much so it's built on the void. So much as it seems to be the antenna of the morning prayers of so many: “What are you doing skinny? Always there, huh? /See what you're luck/You were born and lived “standing” /We porteños look at you as asking you for help,” said Eladia Blázquez in certain words. And every time we look at them it returns the excitement of my Buenos Aires Querido, which sounds like tango, rock, cumbia and trap.

They were times of modernization in the world. The arts renewed their languages under the experiences of the avant-garde, with the bitter aftermath of the Great War and the economic crack of 1929, and architecture could not be alien.  From Martín Fierro magazine by Jorge Luis Borges and Oliverio Girondo, and then taken up by the magazine Sur de Victoria Ocampo, the multifaceted architect Prebisch advocated a modernist, efficient and measured line. One that culminates in the stripping of the “architecture of today”, one where iron, concrete, machine, calculation and precision reign . Among the reasoning of Le Corbusier, from whom he translated his famous Buenos Aires rationalist conferences, those that proposed a plan that heals the urbanism of the “sick” city such as Buenos Aires, and the nascent monumentalism of the International Congresses of Architecture (CIAM), Prebisch was one of the architects of a cosmopolitan metropolis with a national perspective. As Jorge Liernur points out, “he responded —to those who criticized him for very little Argentine— with the cultural postulates Ricardo Güiraldes had installed with his novel “Don Segundo Sombra” If he showed that it was possible to combine French symbolism and Pampean traditions,  the architecture that Prebisch advocated would prove that one could be modern and Argentine at the same time if the simplicity and the severe spirit of the constructions not contaminated by the metropolises were taken as a model; because the exact solutions, the types, were produced by the modern machine of the the same way in which the people of the plain, with its innate wisdom over time, had managed to produce the exquisite and essential forms of their culture”,  concludes the researcher in the orientation of an architecture that could combine progress and traditions, and that  Prebisch would concretize with other jewels such as the Teatro Gran Rex, meters from its Obelisk.  

Obelisk Buenos Aires

 Meanwhile, governments focused on solving the social and economic problems of new cities during the interwar crises found in modernism representatives tailored to their conservative projects.   It happened in Roosevelt's  New Deal  , Stalin's  Soviets  and Mussolini's fascism, which stimulated large-scale public work by redesigning cities under efficiency parameters, which increased social control in turbulent and conflicting times. The Argentine state modernist policy had in Mariano de Vedia y Mitre (1932-1938), mayor of fraudulent president Justo, the largest representative in the country of these cities for (surveillance) crowds - although Luciano Peltier in Mendoza produced a more radical change in the ejido of the capital Cuyana. Among the major achievements of the mayor Vedia and Mitre are listed the three new underground lines (doubled in six years the existing kilometers, from 13 to 26), the widening of the east-west avenues (Belgrano, Santa Fe, Córdoba and Corrientes, which revalued the properties of the Frentists who endured compulsive eviction) and the construction of North-South Avenue,  July 9,  which should be the symbol of balance between rich and poor. The demolition of 20 hectares would be the beginning of the Buenos Aires modernizing picket, which would erase traces of what was — or could be — and which would only end on July 9 with the last dictatorship — although in recent years it continued with its expansion with the motorways and the Metrobus “Buenos Aires progresses and transforms in an incredible way. You stop spending fifteen days through a block, and when you return you don't know her anymore. [...] The half-collapsed walls and half-built walls give the impression that there has just been a bombing,” appeared in Caras y Caretas in 1936, the year of inauguration of the zero pillar of this “modernizing without social reform” plan, the Obelisk. In addition, our monument would be in tune with other trendy autocelebratories, just like those inaugurated by Brazilians, British and Germans.  And while radicals in the deliberative council requested the site of the future Republic Square for a statue of the recently deceased  President Yrigoyen , the mayor accelerated by decree with the coming of Justo, “the execution of a work of an extraordinary nature, which points to the people of the Republic the true importance of that event. That there is no monument in the city that symbolizes the homage of the Capital of the entire nation”, laying as its foundation the 400 years of the First Foundation of Buenos Aires by Pedro de Mendoza.   The Obelisk was born controversial to unite the Argentines.  


 The Obelisk, my monument 

  Sure to be the first figure in comedy or the drama of the night in the city... you have a “cuore” that wrinkles inside, like a “fueye” /Or better, if you want, /like a porteño” follows Eladia, one of the best lyricists in Argentine popular music.  And if the Obelisk has a citizen soul it is because Corrientes Street was transfigured into the monument  during what they called “insensitive mutilation”, Ezequiel Martínez Estrada, or “bleak bombing,” Roberto Arlt. Just the writer of “Los Sietes locos” filleted the current avenue, recently turned narrosta, “The real street Corrientes starts for us in Callao and ends in Esmeralda. It is the Buenos Aires bud, the heart of the city. The real street. The street in which the porteños dream of who are in provinces. The street that starts a sigh in the banished of the city. The street you want, you really want. The street that is nice to travel from end to end because it is a street of vagrancy, of torrantism, of oblivion, of joy, of pleasure”, closed in 1928 in one of its etchings. Because the Obelisk is associated with the 9 de Julio and the avenue that embraces it, Corrientes. However, few remember the  Diagonal Norte  that is born under its shadow, another avenue that opened to increase the flow of transport and people — and capitals.  Or that underneath one of the largest underground nodes of the Continent was opened, with its Obelisk passage which is also a citizen postcard, so a vertical structure of 170 tons had to be solved on a gigantic well. The shadow of the Obelisk was the modern talisman of a national civic center in which the metropolitan area was projected, two million inside General Paz Avenue to be built in 1941, and more than five million in Greater Buenos Aires — operation to be traced in Rosario with the Monument to the Flag (1940) of Bustillo and Guido.  

“As is notorious, the obelisk -from Prebisch- has a total height of 67 and a half meters, being its base of 7 by 7 meters, being its apex built by a quadrangular pyramid whose base is a square of 3 meters 50 sideways and a height of 4 meters 50”, reported the Public Works Bulletin 1936 No. 23 Vol. 1,  “The vast majority of materials of national origin have been used”, refer to the 1360 m² white stone of Pampa de Olaen, province of Córdoba. 680 m³ of fast cement was also used  for a work that began on 20 March and ended the last days of April, delivering nine days before the opening of Justo attended.

Obelisk Buenos Aires

“The first impression that the construction of the obelisk has made in public opinion - apart from the inevitable reflections of different nuances that always arouse works that mean a novelty due to their unusual characteristics - has been that of the astonishing speed with which it has been built in the center of the Plaza de la República that monumental construction, which essentially matters an act of adherence by the Buenos Aires commune to the commemoration of the fourth centenary of the founding of Buenos Aires”, reflects the aforementioned bulletin of a monument, as Prebisch wanted to call it instead of Obelisk, “That impression of astonishment is perfectly justified, if considered, that discounted Easter holidays and some rainy days that determined momentary interruption of work, the obelisk has been built in thirty-one days,” he says this  wonder of the concrete architecture that took 157 workers, with the death of the Italian worker José Cosentino who fell into one of the vaults of the foundation — remember that at the time of the first skyscrapers, the Comega among them, who also like the Obelisk built the German company Holzmann/Geopé, there were frequent accidents involving young immigrants without any labor protection.

Each of the faces of this “multiple arrival point: of the colonizing spirit, of the Creole spirit, of the modernizing spirit”, in the words of Adrián Gorelik, presents a historical fact, the first foundation of Buenos Aires in 1536; the second in 1580; the first hoisting of the National flag in Buenos Aires on August 23, 1812 on that site, where was the colonial church of San Nicolás; and the Constitution of 1880 that established the Federal Capital.  The ascent to the summit of the general public was never fully enabled, which is reached by means of a 206-step sailor staircase, with 7 breaks — only on special occasions allowed in small groups.   It is even forbade to other targets such as artistic ones, for example the scenes from the film “Pizza, birra y faso” (1998) were filmed there without permission. Among those who accessed one of the roofs of Buenos Aires are the balancists of the journey on 9 de Julio Avenue in 1952, or the neighbors who visited the monument for their 80 years. Most had to settle for the images of Leandro Erlich's remembered installation in 2015.

 “ Thus was born the Obelisco:1936”  Horacio Coppola is the  audiovisual record of Buenos Aires's perplexity, and the shock of modernity, which is complemented by his photos that accompany the & ldquo; History of Corrientes Street” by Leopoldo Marechal -some reproduced here-, and written on behalf of the Municipality of Buenos Aires as part of the events and publications commemorative of the fourth centenary of the founding of the city , “This spring gesture, last vision of the Corrientes street, ends the biography I just drew with less erudition than affection. Open to all possibilities, docile to the rhythm of the city, in its form sings the present and announces the future.  The index of his obelisk points to the sky and its widening eastward discovers the river: the street, open as never before, also wanted to remind us of that double grace, the sky and the river of Buenos Aires ” Two artists, Coppola and Marechal, who pointed their eyes to the horizon of future cities. With an Obelisk opening the road that integrates river and cement, environmental environment and city.


 The Obelisk in the city of everyone and nobody 

“(The Obelisk) represents the abstract strength of the city of everyone and no one, youth without concrete ideals and the staggering increase in the vegetative population.  Buenos Aires regains for him its coat of arms as a cosmopolitan city, without soul or character. [...] The symbol of the city is now an abstraction.   [...] For many with a shorter view and less firm head, the Obelisk serves as a point of orientation when they leave the cinemas with the four cardinal points turned upside down,” Martínez Estrada said, in one of the first philosophical glances to the monument, which already poetically habited the monument. he found  Baldomero Fernández Moreno, more positive, and in the verses that were at his foot, and that were a tribute to Prebisch, “Now you can throw your glance/sick of creeping and penitent walking, /stone up, towards the omnipotent sun, /and descend spiritualized”  the fervor of mayor Vedia y Mitre, who used the Obelisk as an emblem of the propaganda of national urban modernization before the world,  coming to be filmed by the Americans a color film projected in 2000 Yankee theatres through  an agreement with the Office of Tourism of the United States. oacute; n Pan-American from Washington. Vedia y Mitre was not only one of the first politicians to exploit modern media but was also a pioneer in the tourism industry, establishing an Argentinean office in New York that sold packages to visit the Queen of Plata.   The Obelisk was the center of attention in the United States as it was from the Argentine pavilion, at the Paris International Exhibition in 1937.

This enthusiasm for a symbol that meant perpetuity taking up an ancient monument of Egyptian origin, which had inspired Prebisch, crossing antiquity and progress, was the “ aspect is that, from now on, you must look at it. The final judgment will have to be awaited for distant times, when today's nervous comments lose their current... The undeniable thing is that it is a work that constitutes a flaunt of the incredible speed with which constructions are verified in our country . This, apart from the deep remembrance that the City of Buenos Aires City Municipality has assigned it,” the ministerial bulletin ended effusive.  Something that seemed distant in 1939 when the deliberative council sanctioned the demolition of the Obelisk by Ordinance No. 10,251, by 23 votes to three, on economic, aesthetic and public security reasons.  It was in the memory of the previous year's works that replaced the stones with latex painted cement due to the detachments, which could have caused a catastrophe in a school event. However, the mayor Goyeneche opposed and saved the monument of Prebisch, heritage of the City, although the plaque that recognized its authorship was not restored. Over the years the porteños fell in love with the “chalk bar in equilibrium”, in the words of other of their first critics, the writer Manuel Peyrou, and could modify their surroundings, the Plaza de la República that was dry and green on several occasions, but no one would think of knocking down that piece from Buenos Aires which is the Obelisk.

Phallic symbol, Masonic wink, excessive homage to St. Peter, Egyptian greeting to the sun, copy of the American obelisk, everything can be and more. He dressed as a Christmas tree or huge condom in the fight against AIDS. He exhibited images of great national artists such as Julio Le Parc and Charly García. Either he generously allowed the Olympic return of the club de tus amores or la blanquiceleste, or presided over the great national duels, the last the farewell of Maradona.  The Obelisk “Now I know why they made you in the shape of a pencil/For you to ever write the story of Buenos Aires in heaven,” says Eladia, as you draw daily in our lives .


Sources: Gorelik, A.  Looks on Buenos Aires. Cultural history and urban criticism . Buenos Aires: 21st century. 2004; Liernur, J.  Architecture in 20th century Argentina. The construction of modernity.   Buenos Aires: FNA. 2001; ;

Publication Date: 14/04/2021

Rate this item

We suggest you continue reading the following notes:

Entre el Obelisco y la Plaza de Mayo Between the Obelisk and Plaza de Mayo
la paris de sudamerica The Paris of South America



I wrote! Reader Notes

Go to section


There are not comments

Leave feedback


Argentines around the world
 Comodoro Rivadavia A chubutense that does not go unnoticed in Brazil

Pablo Rodríguez is born and raised in Comodoro Rivadavia and currently presides over the Brazilian S...

Mirtha Legrand Another season without Mirtha Legrand?

The second season of the dinners and lunches now driving his granddaughter Juana Viale keeps a good...

Perón Domingo Antonio Raso, the man who took care of Perón

Domingo Antonio Raso's life was anonymous as his responsibility: he had to guard the leader of justi...

Health and Esthetics
Vida de Yoguini Moderna - práctica para relajar la espalda Yoga to relax your back

Today Patrizia brings us a quiet practice, suitable for all levels, to relax the upper back area, wh...



I want to be up to date

Subscribe to our newsletter and I received the latest news