History of the Argentine Government House (Casa Rosada)

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The site on which the Casa Rosada is located has been the seat of successive political authorities that have governed Argentina for centuries, and served as the official residence of Spanish governors and viceroys before Argentine Independence in 1816.

Shortly after he founded the city of Buenos Aires in 1580, explorer and colonizer Juan de Garay had a large trench dug on the site and the excavated soil was used to raise embankments for what was later named the “Real Fortaleza de San Juan Baltasar de Austria” (Royal Fortress of Saint John Baltasar of Austria) or “Castillo de San Miguel” (Saint Michael’s Castle).

Later, in 1595, Governor Fernando de Zárate built a 120m fortress with a moat and a drawbridge on the slopes of the site that overlooked the river. In the early 18th century, a more robust brick fort and official residence was constructed and lasted until its demolition a century and a half later.

During the country’s period of independence in the early 19th century, the building accommodated the authorities of various successive national governments: Juntas, Triumvirates, Supreme Directors, Governors of the city of Buenos Aires and the first President of Argentina, Bernardino Rivadavia.

In 1862, after being abandoned for several decades after Independence, President Bartolomé Mitre reoccupied the building as the seat of political government, and remodeled the old official residence. His successor, Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, decided to embellish the residence, landscaping the gardens and painting its façade pink, a colour it retains to this day.

A couple of decades later, President Julio A. Roca decided to remodel and enlarge the Government House on the corner of the streets of Balcarce and Rivadavia, next to the neighbouring Post & Telegraph Office, constructed a few years before in 1873 on the streets of Balcarce and Hipólito Yrigoyen.

Today’s Casa Rosada is essentially the joining together of both of these buildings. This took place in 1886 by means of a portico that is nowadays the entrance of the Casa Rosada overlooking the Plaza de Mayo.

With these buildings the ancient fort disappeared except for some walls and a porthole –which have been preserved and can be seen in the Casa Rosada Museum.

Building processes

The original fort

In 1538, Pedro de Mendoza established a settlement called “Nuestra Señora del Buen Ayre” near the mouth of the Riachuelo de los Navíos river. In 1580, Juan de Garay founded the city at the place that was meant to be the main square or Plaza Mayor (nowadays Plaza de Mayo), naming it “Santísima Trinidad”, while the port retained the name of the original settlement.

In 1594, the “Real Fortaleza de San Juan Baltasar de Austria” was built. It was replaced in 1713 by a more solid construction with turrets, sentry boxes, a drawbridge and a moat which, once completely built in 1720, was called “Castillo San Miguel”. In 1820, President Bernardino Rivadavia modified the fort and the drawbridge was replaced by a neoclassical portico. This site is where the Government House currently stands. In the Casa Rosada Museum, one of its portholes is on display, as well as the vault that used to be the Royal Treasury’s warehouse.

The New or Taylor Customs House

Under English architect Edward Taylor, the New Customs House was built in 1855, contiguous to the rear walls of the front and overlooking the river. It was the first large public building of the young mercantile State of Buenos Aires, and testament to its burgeoning commercial importance at the time: a semicircular structure with storage rooms on its five floors and fifty-one vaulted warehouses surrounded by galleries.

A 300-metre long pier extended from the central tower, which had a clock and a beacon at the top, for the anchoring, loading and unloading of deep-draught vessels. Along two side ramps, carts loaded with goods accessed the Marshalling Yard. It was used for almost forty years and demolished up to the first floor by the Puerto Madero project, its foundations lying beneath the present Plaza Colón (Colón Square).

The first construction

In 1873, President Domingo Faustino Sarmiento ordered the construction of a post office on the remaining site following the demolition of the south wing of the Fort of Buenos Aires (on Balcarce and Hipólito Yrigoyen). The building was erected by Swedish architect Carl Kihlberg, combining French and Italian Neo-Renaissance stylistic elements.

The Post Office Palace

President Julio A. Roca entrusted the civil engineers department to enlarge and repair the Government House so as to bring it up to the standards of the new post office. The project approved belonged to another Swedish architect, Henrik Aberg, and involved the demolition of the fort and the construction of a building identical to the post office, differentiating it by incorporating a gallery balcony on the first floor to be used during festivities and parades. The original fort therefore all but disappeared, though some walls and one of its portholes have been preserved and may be seen in the Casa Rosada Museum.

Casa Rosada and the Post Office Palace

The project of incorporating the Post Office building into the Government House was carried out by architect Francesco Tamburini. In order to merge both buildings into one, he designed a big central arch, which is linked to the surrounding areas, where the New Customs House and the Recova Vieja (the Old Market) stood, which the architect interpreted as being arranged around a common axis on which the main entrances were located, emphasized by a higher archway.

The Palace

The building has three floors on Balcarce Street, while the connected Casa Rosada Museum on Paseo Colón Avenue has four floors and a basement stretching over almost one block. All the original rooms located on the three main façades have direct light and ventilation, while the original inner rooms were designed in such a way as to receive light and ventilation from galleries situated around the patios. All but one of them contained skylights, of which two remain today. The original structure consists of bearing walls of varying thickness and slabs supported only by brick-vaulted ceilings with steel or wooden joists, depending on the area. The result of a long construction process, the present building was officially inaugurated in 1898, during the second presidency of General Julio A. Roca.