Yesterday I got on a tour bus to get myself familiar with Buenos Aires. At various stops the audio recording gave a brief history of significant landmarks. Many of them majestic monuments built in the early 20th century. The National Assembly. The opera house. The central bank. Several museums. All I heard were the names of Italian and French architects. No wonder Argentinians consider themselves European first, Latin American last.
When the bus reached the Palermo neighborhood, our group of tourists listened to stories about several massive statues surrounded by parks along wide avenues lined with big bushy trees. Hey! But what about the huge Persian column we just passed? The audio guide was silent.
It was surprising, to say the least, to see a replica of a Persepolis column, with a sitting bull on top, in Buenos Aires. I got off the nearest station and walked towards the monument rising in the middle of a dozen or so tall fan palm trees. I thought this had to be a gift from the Shah, never the persophobic Islamic Republic. Nobody would erect such a thing here for artistic reasons. There had to be a political catch.
I looked it up. The Shah had built good relations with Argentina as a supplier of enriched uranium -- and technical know how -- when Iran's nuclear energy industry was getting started in the early 1970s. According to an Argentinian information page:
When you reach Iran’s square, placed between Figueroa Alcorta Avenue, Sarmiento Avenue, Casares Avenue and Berro Street, you will find a monumental column known as the “Column of the Persian Temple”.
It is a replica of one of the columns of Cyrus’ Palace in Persepolis, constructed in between the VIth and Vth centuries b.C. by Darius and Xerxes.
The column was donated by the Persian Shah during one of his visits, along with the Empress Farah Pahlevi, to Argentina. It is 19 meters tall and is crowned by two bullheads.
The Mayor of the City of Buenos Aires, Saturnino Montero Ruiz, thanked this gift on March the 3rd, 1972. However, the 6 containers in which the 102 thousand kilogram column was held were delivered by the Government of the City of Buenos Aires to the firm in charge of placing it where it can be found today, 6 years later, on the 21st of December, 1976.
The construction of the column was made out of casts of the original conic column, which was then filled, with a mixture of cement and pulverized stone from the same place where the ruins of the Palace are located in Iran.
Moving away from Iran’s column, but also in Iran’s square, you will find a Persian lion. It is a beautiful work from the talented Argentine plastic artist: Blas Salvador Gurrieri.
I didn't see the "Persian Lion" in "Iran Sq." but borrowed a photo of it.
Argentina continued to supply Iran with 20% enriched uranium, despite American objections, with the approval of the IAEA, for many years after the 1979 revolution. I'm not sure when or if they stopped, but my guess is they have. But relations between the two countries continue to be friendly, relatively speaking, although I think it's limited to mostly agricultural exports to Iran. I presume Argentina also buys Iranian oil.
Relations got rather complicated when huge bombs exploded outside the Israeli Embassy (1992) and a Jewish community center (1994), killing more than a hundred and injuring 350 or so. Iranian agents and/or Lebanese Hezbollah allies have been blamed (who else?). The case is still under investigation with Argentinian prosecutors and politicians making vague statements once or twice a year.
Then last week I learned of the existence of another Iranian landmark. One of my house-mates said he had seen a building a few blocks away in our Palermo neighborhood housing a school run by the Islamic Republic. You're kidding! A few blocks away? I've got to check it out.
We walked over to José Antonio Cabrera Ave. today and sure enough, there it was: "Escuela Nº 13 D.E. 02 - República Islámica de Irán". A six-story building which appeared to be closed for the holidays (schools reopen in March). A couple of people could be seen on the ground floor behind the front metal screen. The school probably serves the children of embassy staff and other Iranians living in Buenos Aires.
Now I'm hoping to find an Iranian restaurant. Someone told me he saw one during a recent visit. I'll find it! I must. I miss ghormeh sabzi with lots of piaz :) >>> photo essay
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