San Telmo Conventillo Photo Essay Tour

The conventillos of Buenos Aires are community living spaces. They were originally occupied by waves of immigrants. Enter this closed-off community with me. Learn its secrets and meet its residents in San Telmo, the heart of Buenos Aires’ historic center.

Argentina’s Immigration Wave

Late afternoon in the La Boca neighborhood of Buenos Aires.
It’s the end of the 19th century. Argentina is in an economic boom period, thanks to new refrigerator ships that can cross the Atlantic, delivering Argentine meat to Europe.

You are part of a wave of European immigrants arriving in Buenos Aires. Guess what? You find a room in a former mansion! You and your family will have to share a bathroom, kitchen and laundry sinks with hundreds of other immigrants. What choice do you have? You take it!

We’re here in the historic center of Buenos Aires, a neighborhood called San Telmo. You won’t know a conventillo if you pass it on the street. Their entrances look like any other building on the block. You’ll need a little luck to find it, a little knowledge and you’ll have to do some exploring.

San Telmo Conventillo Photo Essay

A wandering dog and laundry drying on the line in this San Telmo Conventillo
This style of community housing became known as conventillos. Some still exist today. Some of these now have their own bathroom and possibly a tiny kitchen, but many still don’t.

Dan and I didn’t feel comfortable taking photos inside the tiny home we entered; however, we have a good example for you at the end of this post.
The shared kitchen area in this San Telmo conventillo
The shared kitchen area is small for the number of residents who depend on it, but it’s very clean.
Santiago is one current resident of this conventillo in the Buenos Aires neighborhood, San Telmo. He told us stories about the community.
Today was Santiago’s birthday so we brought him a bottle of wine to thank him for sharing the story of this colorful, old community!

Dr. Rawson And The Overcrowding And Unsanitary Conditions

The shared bathrooms in the center of this San Telmo conventillo  in Buenos Aires’ historic center
The original bathrooms didn’t have plumbing. In 1885, Dr. Guillermo Rawson exposed the unsanitary conditions in his Study Of The Rental Conditions Of Buenos Aires. This lead to many reforms.
The shared laundry area in this San Telmo conventillo in Buenos Aires’ historic center
The laundry area.
An Argentine-style barbecue the day we visited the conventillo in Buenos Aires’ historic center
People in the conventillos cook outside in the shared space.

How We Discovered This Special Community

A corner with me posing, the laundry drying above me
Conventillos are very private communities. They’re hidden away behind doors in the middle of a regular city block in the oldest parts of Buenos Aires. We knew these places existed, but discovering their locations was difficult.
A storekeeper in the local bodega
The key was this tiny bodega in San Telmo. The store owner gave us information of one that was close by conventillo, along with story of how she and her husband won the respect of this closed community. Unfortunately, we didn’t ask her name.

What Happened To All Of The Conventillos In Buenos Aires?

Some of these are still around, as we’ve shown you. While shopping in a beautiful shopping center on a touristy street nearby, we made a surprising discovery.

The shopping center Galería Soler de French, with colorful umbrellas decorated the outdoor passage
The upscale Galería Soler de French. It was originally the mansion of Domingo French. French was a politician and a military officer who fought for Argentina’s independence.

Several of these conventillos have been converted into shopping malls, although this is the nicest we’ve seen.
Aixa sipping wine above Calle Defensa in San Telmo.
Here I am on Calle Defensa, a historic street in San Telmo.

In 1871, an outbreak of yellow fever, right here in the historic center of Buenos Aires, caused the wealthy residents to move out of the neighborhood. They subdivided their homes, creating these conventillos.

Some people blamed the crowded conditions in other conventillos for the outbreak, and others blamed the soldiers returning from the jungles in the Paraguay War. However, in 1881, Cuban doctor Carlos Findlay discovered that yellow fever is transferred by mosquitos.
An artisan jewelry shop in Galería Soler de French, showing the size of the home of this former conventillo
Alberto, the shop owner and artist of this artisan jewelry shop, told us that his shop was an apartment in a conventillo. You can see the loft area above. This was the size of the home I saw in the conventillo that I visited.
A small girl on the balcony facing the courtyard of a La Boca Conventillo.
This sad-looking girl is from a conventillo in La Boca. She’s looking out over the balcony over the courtyard of this conventillo. As you can see by the walls and ceiling, people in La Boca are much poorer. La Boca is a dangerous neighborhood and you don’t go after dark.
The little girl’s mother on the street-facing balcony in La Boca.
Here is the little girl’s mother, on the balcony facing the street. We weren’t welcomed here, but we still managed to enter.
A bar in the La Boca neighborhood of Buenos Aires. The patio gave us a view of one of the conventillos.
This bar hadn’t opened yet, but the owner invited us in. And lead us to the patio in the back where we could see the conventillo.
An antique photo from around 1900 showing everyday life in a conventillo
A conventillo from the year 1900 (estimated) / (Copyright expired)

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