The beginnings of Defensa Street date back to the founding times of Buenos Aires. At that time, the “epicenter” of the city founded by Juan de Garay in 1580, was made up of the Plaza Mayor (current Plaza de Mayo) and its surrounding blocks, which were crisscrossed by streams, ravines and other derivatives that carried their waters. towards the La Plata River. Defensa Street was then just a dusty road that led from the square towards the most inhospitable terrain. That area was considered “outside the walls” of the city, on the other side of the diffuse limits imposed by the surrounding ditches.
At the intersection with the current Chile Street was the feared “Tercero del Sur” stream. This stream came from the west and acted as a drain, so it went straight and without brakes in search of the eastern river waters. It was so fierce that, after the rains, it even produced avalanches, dragging down any obstacle that stood in its way, and bogged down the area. On the other side, awaited the so-called Alto de San Pedro, a suburban area that, little by little, was populated by people from the river and sea: fishermen, sailors, sailors, merchants and anyone who did tasks in the city's port. Carpenters, blacksmiths, porters, cart drivers and other day laborers joined a list that, for more than two centuries, did not stop expanding its ranks. Since then, something would begin to change on this great road.
Already well into the 16th century, the path that was difficult to pass through became a moderately accessible path. Although, its 1500 meter route, at that time, was extremely long. Hence, the road acquired different names along its route: its first section was called “San Francisco”, because it passed in front of the atrium of the so-called church; Then came the block “de la Higuera”, it is not known if its name was because of a tree of that species or because the house of Don Antón Higuera, a resident of the area, was there. Then followed the “Hospital” section, due to the presence of such a building on the corner of current Mexico Street; and the stream, named above, at the height of what is now Chile Street, where the “del zanjón” path was traveled. Then, there was the aforementioned “Alto de San Pedro”, located meters from the Parish of San Pedro Telmo, which gave its name to the neighborhood. This stop, over the years, would become Plaza Dorrego. He knew how to give respite and protection to the carts that went and came from the Plaza Mayor to the port area, traveling along our main street as the only obligatory route between both destinations: the Camino Real or Camino del Puerto, names that, from voice to voice, were They were imposing themselves among a growing neighborhood.
Already in 1800, a few blocks from “el Alto”, the “traffic” began to thicken. Especially, passing through the years 1806 and 1807, when the English soldiers landed from the south and began to advance along this same road, at that time the Camino Real, towards the Plaza Mayor. The story goes that the neighbors threw boiling water from the rooftops to defend the city from invaders. Action that would remain as a name: “Defense”. But this definitive name change was decreed some time later, in 1845, and by Juan Manuel de Rosas. And there this historic street begins to go through the stage of federalism versus unitarism.
Leaving United States Street behind, we continue our march towards the south, while the chimneys begin to take over our surroundings. It is in this section of Defense that the city's first industries were established. After a manufacturing past based on the production of bricks and cannons, and the subsequent installation of flour mills, it was the turn of the confectionery industries. Back in 1837, on the northwest corner of Defensa and Carlos Calvo, Don Carlos Noel set up his “el Sol” candy factory. A tribute to the efforts of this Spanish immigrant who, perhaps without knowing it, would be one more in thousands and thousands, after a few years.
Although at this stage the Creoles are still the majority, comfortably and elegantly installed in their houses with multiple patios and rooms. Until an unforeseen event, which happened quickly and unexpectedly, changed all plans. In February 1871, the yellow fever epidemic began to advance. Thus, these wealthy Creole families emigrate to the future neighborhoods of the north of Buenos Aires, and silence takes over the immense residences, only for a few years, until they become the tenements housing the numerous families of immigrants who arrived in Buenos Aires. at the end of the 1800s. This new panorama begins to populate the physiognomy of the extensive Defensa Street, and that of that neighborhood that has turned it into its most sensitive artery. Almost frozen in time, Defensa Street still evokes those suburban memories.
Currently, Defensa Street continues to be the road artery that runs through the historic center of the city of Buenos Aires. In recent years, it has become well known for having become an important tourist center, due to its historical and cultural importance. On weekends, it becomes pedestrian in almost its entire length.
At the intersection with Adolfo Alsina Street, historical sites are preserved on each corner: the Altos de Elorriaga (northwest), the Plazoleta San Francisco (northeast), the San Francisco Basilica and San Roque Parish (southeast) and the La Estrella Pharmacy (southwest). ). The old house of Elorriaga (year 1808) and the pharmacy (founded in 1834, with a current building from 1895) are properties of the City Museum, which is located a few meters away (Defensa 219) in the old House of the Cherubs (year 1894).
On the third block, passing Moreno Street, is number 350, the house where Bernardino Rivadavia, the first Argentine president in 1829, was born. A few meters away, at number 372 is the Casa de la Defensa (owned by Télam), which functioned as a war arsenal during the English invasions. Both are houses from the late 18th century, and the Rivadavia house has been modified to accommodate a parking lot, although it is said that in the surviving structure walls of adobe bricks joined with dung have been found.
On the corner with Belgrano Avenue is the Convent of Santo Domingo, with the Basilica Nuestra Señora del Rosario, which was partially inaugurated in 1773 with a single tower, and which resisted the English bombings. The second tower was only completed in 1849. The remains of the hero Manuel Belgrano rest there.
At number 535 is the “Plaza Defensa Cultural Center”, inaugurated in 1989, and on the southeast corner with México Street is the old Mint building, which dates back to 1881, today it is occupied by the Institute of Argentine Military History, at 628. One block later, Defensa Street intersects with Chile Street, which widens in this section as a remnant of the old Tercero del Sur stream, mentioned above. There, in front of an apartment building, there is a small statue that represents the comic book character Mafalda, designed by the cartoonist Quino. There Defensa already enters the San Telmo neighborhood.
From this important artery begins the area with the greatest tourist movement, which has its core in Plaza Dorrego (corner with Humberto 1º Street). There are galleries, antique shops and stalls of artisans and artists with many years in the San Telmo neighborhood, as well as street artists and musicians who show their skills to the public on weekends. A few meters from reaching Carlos Calvo street is one of the entrances to the San Telmo Market, expanded in 1930, where fruits, vegetables and meat are still sold, and which, in recent years, has been transformed into a small gastronomic hub.
In front of Plaza Dorrego is the El Solar de French gallery and a large number of restaurants and pubs that use the square on weekends to set up their tables, along with dancers and street musicians. The Old Things and Antiques Fair has also been held since 1970, promoted by the former director of the City Museum, the architect José María Peña. At number 1179 there is the Defense Passage, a gallery in the restored house that belonged to the Ezeiza family, and dates back to the 1880s.
De Banfield - Trabajo propio, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11109094
Starting from Brasil Street, Defensa borders Lezama Park, the former country estate of said family and, previously, property of English families. Gregorio Lezama's widow gave the land to the Buenos Aires Municipality in exchange for the park bearing the last name of her husband. Inside the park, at number 1652, is the old Lezama mansion, headquarters of the National Historical Museum, since 1897.
In this final stretch, already in the Barracas neighborhood from Caseros Avenue, the street is wide, still has the tram tracks in its cobblestones, and goes down the slope of the low area that formerly flooded the Riachuelo with its floods. When crossing Avenida Martín García, the street widens even more and changes its name to Avenida Regimiento de Patricios.
Without a doubt, Defensa Street is a must-visit place in the city to explore and experience its extensive history, of which there are still many records that cause great charm.