Art! We all love it, we all enjoy meandering through museums and marveling at the various works created by the masters. However, how often have you considered that one of the most fascinating and beautiful art forms surrounds us constantly, in the buildings that we walk in and out of everyday? That's right, ARCHITECTURE is an evolving art form, telling rich tales of the past and future by the structures that hold up our homes, work areas, and gathering places.
I lived in Buenos Aires, Argentina during the fall of 2006, and took an amazing course on the local architecture. We visited the Buenos Aires Cathedral and learned that it was built over three centuries and many different architects took part in designing it, resulting in several distinct styles. The cathedral has an unharmonious look and feel to it, as a result of the long development of its construction. Specifically, the interior of the cathedral was built in a different style than the exterior. Being built by different architects in different centuries is the reason that there is no correspondence between the front and interior ground plan of the cathedral.
Construction on the interior began in 1753 by architect Antonio Masella and was finished over a century later. There are three naves and two aisles inside, along with many small chapels, each dedicated to a different saint. Even today, people come into the cathedral to pray in the chapels to a specific saint. Of course, there is a main altar in the front which was built by Isidro Lorea in 1782. This was later modified to better fit the rest of the cathedral. Finally, the flooring in the cathedral is a Venetian mosaic. This is much more modern and was designed in 1907 by Carlos Morra. The patterns characterize particular parts of Christ’s crucifixion. Also inside the cathedral is kept the remains of General Jose de San Martin, the South American liberator regarded as Father of Argentina. Next to him are the remains of two other generals: Tomas Guido and Juan Gregorio Las Heras.
Even though the cathedral was consecrated in 1791, the current façade was not built until 1822. Construction took many years; it was even halted temporarily in 1827, then resumed and finally completed. The engineer on this project was Catelin. He designed the façade in the neoclassical style, which in reality has no association or synchronization with the rest of the cathedral. The overwhelming look of the cathedral was changed from a traditional Spanish colonial look to a Greek style, with a pediment and colonnade in front, though the sides and back remain similar to the original style. The exterior has twelve columns in a Corinthian style, each representing one of the twelve apostles. Above the columns there is a scene of carvings telling the story of Jacob and his sons, Joseph among them.
The façade was planned and designed in this way because it was reflecting the neoclassical style of the day. Neoclassical meant leaving the old behind and having order and a reason for each part of the construction. It imitated Greek and Roman architecture, which is easily recognizable in the twelve columns. The cathedral is a very important building in a central part of the city; therefore the architect probably wanted it to be very modern and for it to make a statement.
The time when the façade was constructed (1820s) was a very important time for Buenos Aires. In 1826, Bernadino Rivadavia became the first president of Argentina. During his time in office he focused on improving Buenos Aires. He wanted the city to look more European so he constructed large avenues and schools, paved and lighted streets, and founded the University of Buenos Aires. He also founded many museums and expanded the national library. This period in history was also when Buenos Aires was on the threshold of a great transformation and of the Industrial Revolution. It is probable that these factors contributed to the design of the cathedral’s façade.
--Contributed by Anna Roberts, vocal & piano instructor.