Córdoba:

old beauty, new airs

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Old palaces, modern galleries, classic restaurants, and hip bars: this little big town has everything

 

Sometimes age has nothing to do with time. Córdoba knows this well. In the historical Argentine city, the past makes its presence known while coexisting with a spirit of youth. Two opposite chronologies which, in the middle of the path, intersect to create a frank phase of growth.Take Nueva Córdoba, its most upscale neighborhood. It gives the impression you're walking around a college campus – which is true, being that Universidad Nacional de Córdoba has been there for 405 years. Students come from all over the country due to the plethora of colleges, bringing transformation to the area, which is now putting up brick buildings.

 

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It hasn't always been this way. The Museo de Bellas Artes Evita is one vestige from a time when high society brought Parisian airs to the region. The belle époque can be seen in the nearby boulevards, in the diagonal streets that give way to large traffic circles, and in the design of Sarmiento Park. But those walking in the green portion will easily notice a twisted obelisk on the horizon – the Faro del Bicentenario. This structure commemorates the country's independence in contemporary style, in harmony with the neighboring Museo Emilio Caraffa – whose light colors and curves are evocative of another new piece of architecture, the Centro Cívico de Córdoba, home to the province's government.

 

Faro del Bicentenario — Av. Poeta Lugones, 8200

Museo de Bellas Artes Evita — Av. Hipólito Yrigoyen, 511

 

Colonial heritage

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Much of the ancient architecture is part of colonial-religious heritage. The Iglesia de los Capuchinos is the work of Franciscans, in shades of ochre, black, and yellow to symbolize the union of the peoples. Its facade, incidentally, is also rife with symbolism. The two front towers are asymmetrical: one represents life on Earth and the other, closer to the skies, represents the eternal soul. Viewed from above, the Paseo del Buen Pastor is an enormous cross with glassy appendages sticking out from it – formerly a women's prison, today a locale for exhibitions and restaurants.

 

The center of Córdoba, with its narrow sidewalks and pedestrian streets, recounts an even more ancient history. Plaza San Martín is where the first cathedral and Cabildo, the administrative headquarters, were erected. The Jesuits settled on the block known as the Manzana Jesuítica, where the meeting between European and Native art gave way to colonial baroque. Churches with this sort of architecture are all over the city – the Cripta Jesuítica would have been one of them if its construction hadn't been interrupted, only to be rediscovered in 1989.

 

Cripta Jesuítica — Av. Colón, 100

 

Contemporary art

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The city in which old meets new is fertile ground for art: in its architecture, its museums, but also in its galleries and performance venues. Spaces that reassign meaning to environments and foment cultural awareness: each building constructed must contain a work of art inside.

 

What was once a gas station is now home to the gallery El Gran Vidrio. It is a combination restaurant, café, and exhibition hall. Located in a business section, this is the way co-founder and director Catalina Urtubey found to exist there. It worked. Those who go in to enjoy American or Nordic breakfasts (made with pickles and salmon, for example) end up noticing the pieces by artists – both established professionals and beginners.

 

“What I like about Córdoba is that, even though it’s old, it’s not a resolute city. Everything is still in the process of development.”

Catalina Urtubey, director and co-founder of the gallery El Gran Vidrio.

 

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Something similar goes on at 220 Cultura Contemporánea, set up inside an old power plant. The basement contains a bar, and photo and art exhibits bring life to the concrete walls. Upstairs is an enormous concert hall for music of all sorts – from hip-hop to cuarteto (a regional genre, with accelerated chords).

 

The musical rhythm is the pride of the city, performed in packed party halls. It's what you hear playing at some of the stands at Paseo de las Artes, handicrafts and antiques fairs, enjoyed by vendors with mate tea gourds in hand. The people of Córdoba like to say that this is how they are, spontaneous and with no gimmicks. Their music could be no different.

 

On the table and the counter

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The panaderías fill the air of the city with an aroma. It's the smell of criollitos, squares of crusty dough eaten with jelly or cream cheese. A local would say there's nothing more characteristic of the regional food. Maybe the fernet cola, a drink made with a bitter liqueur and mixed with soda at bars in the bohemian neighborhood of Güemes.

 

When the nightlife takes over, much later, there are plenty of options in the area. And it's quite likely that you'll end up at one of Sebastian Gullo's establishments. At the lively alley known as Galeria Barrio, the food entrepreneur transformed an old fire station into Cervecería Capitán. Nearby, you can also find his restobars Dada Mini and Apartamento, the nightclub Billy Beer, and the Brunchería, where people go to snack on bruschettas on lazy weekend mornings.

 

“Córdoba is big and yet compact. It offers challenges and opportunities. You can do anything here. It’s no coincidence that over 50 bars have opened here in three years.”

Sebastian Gullo, food entrepreneur.

 

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The circulation is viewed through the windows of Standard 69, where dishes are served to be shared. Farther north, in the neighborhood of Villa Belgrano, Lucca Farina & Vino offers a sophisticated atmosphere and authentic Italian food. Respect for traditions, like the parrilla at Las Chilcas, the torta rogel (made with alternating layers of crispy dough and milk candy) at the Andrea Franceschini pastry shop, or the empanadas at La Vieja Esquina in the city center. After all, in Argentina, we do as the Argentines do.

 

La Vieja Esquina — Belgrano, 193  

 

LATAM has flights to Córdoba from Buenos Aires, São Paulo, Lima, and Santiago. 

Special thanks: Agencia Córdoba Turismo, Agencia Córdoba Cultura.