Plaza San Martín de Tours: A Commonplace Haven

Plaza San Martín de Tours is by no means the most celebrated square in Buenos Aires. Historically, political unrest has expressed itself in the Plaza de Mayo, which sits directly in front of Argentina’s Pink House, the seat of federal power. In the San Telmo neighborhood, the Plaza Dorrego boasts one of the most vibrant open air markets in the world. Yet, while these other squares serve as sights of extraordinary events, Plaza San Martín de Tours, situated at the intersection of bustling thoroughfares, hosts an occurrence of understated importance: the everyday gatherings of everyday people.

Named after Buenos Aires’ patron saint, the plaza dates back to the city’s early days. Recoleta, the neighborhood containing the plaza, offers a context of dramatic and beautiful buildings, typically inhabited by wealthy people. Yet, the plaza itself is a simple place, with simple attractions. So simple, in fact, that this area does not even qualify as a square in the truest sense. In contrast to the hard surfaces, shopping, and bustling cafés that grant Plaza Dorrego its qualities as a square, Plaza San Martín de Tours would more accurately be described as a park. Gentle, grassed slopes lure in passersby for a sit. The city’s air hangs heavy with humidity during the spring and summer months, so the massive canopies and gnarled roots of gum trees and the native Ombú (a massive herb) offer an irresistible source of refuge from the heat, as they have to Gauchos for centuries.

The unforgiving pace of Buenos Aires streets gives way at this plaza. A multitude of paths intersect here, and the relentless stream of Argentines winding through the city on a given day slows down and pools up. This is common ground. It’s an historic island of unimposing space, encased by the thumping rhythm of metropolitan life. A block away, Recoleta cemetery’s miniature city of ornate monuments to the dead draws people to the area. A few blocks to the southeast, the Buenos Aires’ Retiro transit hub hums with travelers whose paths will likely take them by the Plaza San Martín de Tours, a natural place to stop and unwind, or meet a friend.

On a typical day, one might find middle-aged professionals eating lunch, youth gathering to­ – quite literally – clown around, friends meeting to play chess or music, or just to pass the time talking about life’s little details. Throughout the week, the pace of activity at the plaza is slower, consisting more of these unhurried interactions of a younger demographic. However, on the weekends, neighboring Plaza Frances hosts an artisanal fair that brings crowds representative of all age groups and social class for myriad activities. The diverse groups that visit it often take advantage of the physical breaks in this public space to demarcate their social circle. Nevertheless, mingling is common. Acquaintances of acquaintances traverse the social nodes dispersed throughout the plaza, making use of social ties to forge new social ties. This nexus-like quality of the plaza is what really sets it apart, ever more so than the sculpture tribute to its namesake, or even the surrounding sightseeing attractions. Plaza San Martín de Tours is something special because it’s an obvious place to meet up and do whatever, to express oneself in everyday terms.

Photographer: Eugenio Meira de Andrade – Brazil