South America

Buenos Aires

church of Saint Dominic, today Basilica del Rosario


The city of Buenos Aires.


The city of Buenos Aires was founded twice. The Spanish explorer Pedro de Mendoza (1487-1537) founded the settlement in 1536, and he was the first governor General of the Río de la Plata region. That settlement soon fell victim to local Indians and to deficient supplies, and the survivors had to retreat up the river to the fortified settlement of Asunción. Nearly 50 years later Juan de Garay led a more substantial expedition back to the site, and there, at the mouth of the Río Riachuelo,  he refunded Nuestra Señora Santa María del Buen Aire on 11 June 1580. Huge tracts of land in the surroundings of the city were granted to members of the expedition.

For nearly two centuries Buenos Aires grew at a modest pace. It was a reasonably good port, but it suffered from the rigid organization of the Spanish Empire in America, by which only selected ports could be used for trade. The entire Río de la Plata region was made part of the Viceroyalty of Peru and governed from Lima. Within the Viceroyalty, only Callao, the port near Lima, was granted permission to trade with Spanish merchants. This effectively reduced Buenos Aires to a backwater. Goods from Callao took nearly six months to reach Buenos Aires by oxcart. Any goods the settlers wanted to sell to Spain took that long to reach Callao and another four or six months before they might be shipped from the port to Cádiz. A complete exchange took at least 24 months.

Instead of suffering from neglect, the porteños thrived. In the last quarter of the 17th century and the first half of the 18th, settlements spread rapidly to the northwest along the banks of the Paraná River, a fertile area well irrigated by many streams and small rivers; these were easily navigated by small boats operated by smugglers who reached the many farms and ranches that lined the river. By the beginning of the 18th century, Argentines were exporting thousands of tons of cereals, tens of thousands of cattle hides, and tons of dried beef destined for the plantations of northern Brazil and the Caribbean islands. The British were the principal source of capital and of transportation for this contraband trade.

By the middle of the 18th century, Buenos Aires was a thriving, if still modest commercial entrepôt of nearly 20,000 inhabitants. The houses were built along the narrow earthen streets stretching north from the Riachuelo. The original harbour had become silted up, and the larger boats that now called at the port had to anchor offshore. But the economic success of the region was undeniable, and in 1776, as part of the Bourbon monarchy's broad reform effort, Buenos Aires was named the capital of the new Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata. The Bourbon monarchs hoped that by expanding their administrative setup in the Americas, they would increase tax revenue from the colonies and, at the same time, increase control over the colonies to protect them from the covetous attentions of Spain's rivals, especially the British. Trade out of Buenos Aires was by this time legal, although the crown still attempted to control its flow and pattern. Because the major mining towns of Upper Peru were now within the confines of the viceroyalty, silver was the most valuable export. The city flourished, and, over the last quarter of the 18th and in the early 19th century, the population of the city nearly doubled, from 24,000 in 1778 to 42,500 in 1810. Official trade reflected Buenos Aires' position as the administrative centre of the viceroyalty. Spain became the region's principal trading partner.

Perhaps the most significant result of the administrative reforms of 1776 was that they split the elite into two groups, whose economic interests were divergent. One continued to concentrate its energies on the pastoral activities of the city's hinterland and the related trade with Cuba, Brazil, and Great Britain; its interests were more international.
The other group was tied economically and administratively to the official activities of the viceroyalty. It was linked to the official bodies, such as the consulado (the trade board), that were recognized by the crown and through which the crown attempted to channel all economic activity. This group's interests were more regional.

The battles for independence from Britain and Spain.

The struggles that produced independence of Buenos Aires and Argentina began before Napoleon's invasion of Portugal and Spain. Three times the English troops tried to conquer Buenos Aires.

The first battle - 1793.

The first time, they attacked the city in 1793, but this attack was repulsed.

The second battle - 1806.

A British force commanded by Lieutenant-General David Baird and Admiral Sir Home Popham took the Dutch colony of the Cape of Good Hope in 1805. The following year, a smaller British force of 1,500 men under Colonel William Carr Beresford was sent across the South Atlantic to invade the Plata region, departing on 14 April 1806 .

The Spanish Viceroy, Marquis Rafael de Sobremonte, had asked the Spanish Crown for reinforcements many times, but no new men arrived. It was suggested that he should arm the city residents of Buenos Aires, then a large settlement housing approximately 45,000, to form a militia, but he was reluctant to give weapons to the Creole population.

The British landed on Quilmes, near Buenos Aires, on June 25, 1806, and reached and occupied Buenos Aires on the 27 June, The Viceroy fled to Córdoba Province with the city's treasure, but lost it to British forces during his escape.

The residents of the city were pleased to see the British arrive at first, although some feared becoming a British colony and favoured independence. However, one of the first measures of Beresford was to decree free commerce and reduction of port taxes. This measure displeased the merchants, who benefited from the Spanish monopoly, and so they gave their support to the resistance.

French marine officer Santiago de Liniers y Bremond, in service to the Spanish Crown, organised the re-conquest of Buenos Aires from Montevideo, with help of the city governor Ruiz Huidobro. Also of importance was the participation of Juan Martín de Pueyrredón, chief of the urban militias.

The third battle - 1807.

The English troops besieged Buenos Aires again for the third time, on 28 June 1807, but this attack was unsuccessful, and they had to leave the country. 

The independence - 1816

In May 1810 prominent Creoles in Buenos Aires, having vied with peninsulars for power in the intervening years, forced the last Spanish viceroy there to consent to a cabildo abierto, an extraordinary open meeting of the municipal council and local notables. Although shielding itself with a pretence of loyalty to Ferdinand, the junta produced by that session marked the end of Spanish rule in Buenos Aires and its hinterland. After its revolution of May 1810, the region was the only one to resist reconquest by loyalist troops throughout the period of the independence wars.  A constituent assembly meeting in 1813 adopted the flag of General Manuel Belgrano, anthem, and other symbols of national identity, but the apparent unity disintegrated soon afterward. This was evident in the assembly that finally proclaimed independence in 1816; that body received no delegates from several provinces, even though it was held outside Buenos Aires, in the interior city of Tucumán, in full, San Miguel de Tucumán on 9 July 1816.  There was Justo Santa Maria de Oro, O.P. (1771-1834/36), an ardent partisan of the national movement, and his countrymen of San Juan de la Frontera elected him deputy to the national congress as delegate.

Manuel Belgrano.

Manuel Belgrano (1770-1820), member of the Third Order of St. Dominic, was the leader in these battles. After the retreat of the English troops, Argentina wished to break the relations with Spain. Belgrano was appointed a General (1811) and defeated the Spanish troops definitively in the battle of Salta (1813). Belgrano's flag, - blue-white-blue -,  was acclaimed the national flag on 9 July 1816. Belgrano died in 1820 and was buried in the church of the Dominicans in Buenos Aires. The banners of the superseded English troops were shown in the church, but are saved now in the Museum of the English occupation, near the Basilíca del Rosário.  In the walls of the church, are the breaches of the bombardments by the English in 1806 an 1807.

The Spanish Dominicans in Buenos Aires.

The Spanish Dominicans arrived in Argentina in 1601 and built in Buenos Aires (1751-1783) the baroque church of Santo Domingo, today named the Basilíca del Rosário. In 1835, the dictator Juan Manuel de Rosas repatriated the Dominicans friars and in 1856 the second tower was built. An atrium houses the Mausoleum of General Manuel Belgrano, who was born and died near the church. His tomb by Hector Ximenez (1903) has a large base of red granite with two bas-reliefs representing the presentation of the Flag and the battle of Salta. On 21 Mai 1942 this church was declared as a national memorial. In the night of 16 July 1955, the church and priory suffered heavy damage through fire-raising by followers of president Juan Domingo Perón, who was excommunicated by Roma for his interference with the governing of the church. The church houses today the Natural History Museum and an astronomic observatory, thanks to President Rivadavia.

Sources: Encyclopædia Britannica CD99, Wikipedia and others.


of Saint Dominic in Buenos Aires
(1751-1783) of the Dominicans.
Argentina 1957, Mi 657, Sc 664.



Lithography by the French Isidore Laur, pseudonym
of Laurent Deroy (1797-1886).

At the
right the church of the Dominicans
in Buenos Aires.

Argentina 1958, Mi 690, Sc 





    Plaza del Mercado in Buenos Aires in 1810.
    In the background the church of Saint Dominic.
    Argentina 1960, Mi 737, Sc c76.

One of the soldiers of the regiment 'Patricios Voluntarios Urbanos
de Buenos Aires', 19th century.
In the background the church of Saint Dominic.
Argentina 1964, Mi 841,Sc 762.



The fall of  Buenos Aires and the capture of the British
General William Carr Beresford, 12 August 1806.

Painting of the French artist Charles Fouquerai (1869-1956).
View of Buenos Aires with the church of Saint Dominic.

Argentina 2006, Mi Bl 92; Sc -                                                                                  



Celebration of the 200th year of the infantry regiment
'Legión de Patricios Voluntarios Urbanos de Buenos Aires'.

In the background the church of Saint Dominic in Buenos Aires.

Argentina 2006, Mi 3089, Sc - .            





200 Year of 'The battle of Santo Domingo', (1806)
in Buenos Aires against the British siege.
Water Colour by Eleodoro Marenco.

Argentina 2007, Mi 3135, Sc  -.



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