Cordóba

Something for Everyone in Cordóba

Business takes lots of travelers to Córdoba’s capital, one of Argentina’s industrial centers and its second largest city.  Outdoor life is another reason to visit Córdoba province; all around there are mountain ranges and valleys to explore, with many small towns providing a wide range of lodging, from camping to comfortable hostelries.  We combined nature with history in visiting the Jesuit institutions that were central to the life of Córdoba city and province until the late 17th century when the Jesuits were expelled from Spain and its colonies.  In 2000 UNESCO designated the Manzana de las Luces in downtown Córdoba and the five outlying Jesuit estancias as a World Heritage site.  Córdoba authorities created a kind of Heritage Trail with informative plaques and guides, and some tourist enterprises offer specialized trips.  

The Jesuits in Córdoba were a kind of empire within the Spanish empire, as they were in their establishments in Misiones.  Their efforts to educate the indigenous peoples as well as convert them to Catholicism ran afoul of many powerful interests, some of whom preferred a system of slavery or forced labor, and eventually the Spanish king came to see the order as a direct threat and outlawed it.  The Jesuit misiones, or reducciones, in the area later divided by Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, were reduced to ruins.  The establishments in Córdoba largely escaped this type of destruction, although not all survived.  They were not entirely the same operation, as black slaves were used here, unlike the practices in the northeast, but they had perhaps an even greater impact, particularly in the city of Córdoba.

Visiting three of the five surviving estancias is relatively easy; they lie close together to the northwest of the capital, and nearby there is a delightful inn, the Posada Camino Real.  The first stop is Casa de Caroya, just off national Route 9 at km 44.  This was the first estancia, built in 1616.  A simple white-washed set of buildings around a central patio remains, with a modest church to one side, and some parts of the supporting water-mills, irrigation channels and ovens. It houses a small museum dedicated to the Italian immigrants who settled in Colonia Caroya.  Just up the road is Jesús María, built in 1618.  This has a much larger church and a two-story brick central building, which now houses various art and history exhibits, including a fine one on indigenous cultures.  The monks at Jesús María produced wine, and some of it made its way to the table of the Spanish king, the first of the American wines to reach the royal throat.  Parkland with an artifical lake surrounds the estancia buildings.  Jesús María is home to an annual folklore and horse-breaking festival in the first half of January; at other times it is a quiet, shady town.

Twenty km north is Santa Catalina, the largest and most elegant of all the estancias, started in 1622.  Santa Catalina is still owned by descendants of the family that purchased it when the Jesuits were expelled, part of its buildings are used for private residences and so are not open to viewing.  The church alone, however, is worth the stop; among other things, it is a photographer’s dream.  Concerts are occasionally given here as well.

One can pass a pleasant weekend - or longer - in visiting the first three estancias, by making a base in the Posada Camino Real (get there by rental car or remise, which the innkeepers will arrange for you).  Caroya and Jesús María make a pleasant stop on the way.  Afternoon trips to Santa Catalina, 12 km away, are planned by the inn to include tea, or you can visit on your own.  Then, simply relax at the posada, which offers a swiming pool, horseback or carriage rides, and a three-hole golf course.  (This area is prime dove hunting country as well, and the inn can assist with that, or arrange a day of golf at the famed18-hole course in nearby Ascochinga; other, longer excursions on horseback are options for the adventurous.)  Dinner is served in the main building, where you can also enjoy a drink by the fire - and the cook’s well-deserved reputation is attracting diners who are not staying at the inn as well.  Around the property are several smaller buildings housing the guestrooms.  At night the absence of light in the neighborhood lets the stars put on a spectacular show.  

With an extra day, you can explore some other relics of the Jesuit presence by going to Tulumba, 75 km north and west of Jesús María by paved road, where the parish church contains the original altar of the Jesuit church in Córdoba.  Also nearby is Candonga, 16 km off Route 53 south of Asochina.  Candonga is a simple but graceful chapel built by native workmen in 1730, and is all that remains of El Rosario de Santa Gertrudis estancia.  This estancia was a post on the Camino Real, and its economic importance lay in raising mules, the most important mode of transport for the time.  Nearby is an inn offering lunches and tea, and picnic spots are available, along with pony rides.  The estancia’s mill can also be visited.  Another lovely option is a drive along the Ongamira hills, to Ischilin, the last home - now a museum - of Argentine impressionist painter Fernando Fader.  The scenery along the way is tranquil and green; the grass known to gardeners in North America as pampas grass, and many other beautiful grasses, cover the hills like sheets of silk.

The fourth and fifth estancias are on the other side of the city.  Alta Gracia is 36 km southwest of the city on provincial route 5.  It was built in 1622, and has a showy baroque church with semi-circular transepts.  The buildings contain the Museo de la Casa del Virrey Liniers, which explains the life and legacy of this French-born Argentine hero.  The kitchens have been beautifully restored.  Concerts and art exhibits also take place here - a kind of Fine Arts Camino seems to be developing.  Finally, there is Candelaria, which is much harder to reach.  Candelaria is 220 km out of the city, virtually all on ripio road through essentially deserted countryside.  As befits an outpost, the buildings were both rougher and stronger, effectively a fort.  Candelaria was largely abandoned and most of its possessions disappeared.  The provincial authorities have found and restored the altar, and one or two other pieces of furniture, and the church today is whitewashed and pristine.  Visiting Alta Gracia is quite easily done from the city itself; a second day would be needed to get out to Candelaria and back.  

These excursions can be combined with an exploration of Córdoba itself and the central Jesuit institutions in the Manzana de las Luces, an entire block of inter-related buildings, restored to their original layout after the designation as World Heritage.  They comprise the central buildings of the National University of Córdoba, second oldest in South America (1613), the Monserrat Colegio, the Library, and the church, a whose rustic brick is quite a contrast to the others.  The church was designed by a Flemish priest, and its relationship to his homeland is immediately apparent.  It has a beautiful barrel vault ceiling, made of cedar brought from Jesuit reducciones in the northeast, with graceful painted designs.  All was constructed by indigenous workers.  The library benefited from the World Heritage approval, recovering books that had been on “loan” to the National Library for over 200 years.

And if time allows, there are other attractions, such as the central Bellas Artes Génaro Pérez, with a collection of Cordobés artists, and, on the edge of the Thays-designed Sarmiento park, the provincial Emilio Caraffa musum, which houses temporary exhibitions of art.  The park also contains the Zoo, which is spacious and has several exhibits of interest to kids, such as the twice-weekly (Tuesday and Thursday mornings) snake-milking.  The Marques de Sobremonte Historical Museum is in a beautiful mid-18th century house that belonged to a colonial governor.  Several of the Cultural Centers dotted around town have programs of concerts and other activities; pick up a folder at the Turismo office, on the Dean Funes side of the Cabildo.  If you need to shop, the Patio Olmos in the Center and the Neuvo Centro Shopping/Falabella next to the Sheraton have just about anything you need.  But it might be more fun to visit the weekend craft fair!

Practicalities for The Estancias:

Posada Camino Real.  tel (0351) 155 525 215, www.posadacaminoreal.com.ar; info@posadacaminoreal.com.ar.  Cecilia Nores and Antonio Covarrubias are the welcoming innkeepers.  Half board or full board.

Opening hours.  Manzana de las Luces.  open daily, 9-13, 16-20; guided visits available.  Caroya, daily 9-13, 14-18.  Jesús María, 8-7 weekdays,  weekends,10-12 and14-18 (in winter, summer 15-19).  Santa Catalina.  Tuesday to Sunday, 10-14, 15-19:30.  Alta Gracia open 9:30 to 20, eight guided visits daily.  Candelaria, 10-19 daily.

Candonga information:  www.candonga.com.ar; candonga@candonga.com.ar

Excursions from Córdoba on Sundays to see Caroya, Jesús María and Santa Catalina: Itatí, (0351) 422-5020; receptivo@itati.com.ar

Wrought iron weathervanes - Las Veletas de Pedro, Santa Cruz 1343, La Florida district in Jesús María.  pezcurra@coop5.com.ar; www.veletas.com.ar

For Córdoba City: 

Dining:  Café La Imprenta, in the El Ateneo bookstores, Grl Paz 156, and Cañada & Duarte Quirós. Verde Siempre Verde (vegetarian),  Alcorta, Figuera Alcorta 330 (La Cañada) for beef.  For “nueva cocina,” San Honorato.  25 de Mayo & Pringles; Novecentro in the Cabildo; L’America,  Caseros 67.  La Nieta é la Pancha, Belgrano 783, criollo cooking.

Central Hotels:  NH Group, the Panorama, Alvear 251 (410-3900), or the more modest Urbano at Alvear 363, 410-3960.  www.nh-hoteles.com or reservas@nh-hoteles.com.ar.  The Windsor Hotel, Buenos Aires 214; 422-4012, reserva@windsortower.com, www.windsortower.com.  Amerian, San Juan 165, 420-7000; a less-expensive option in Hotel del Virrey, Mitre 227, 425-777.

Museo Marques de Sobremonte, open weekdays 8:30 to 1:30, Sat and Sunday 10-13, Sat 1730-20.

Museo Municipal de Bellas Artes Dr Genaro Pérez.  33 Av Grl Paz.  Open 9-21.

General:

Shopping  La Fama, 9 de Julio, pedestrian shopping mall in down town Córdoba; great gaucho/country gear.  Guayacan, in the Neuvo Centro Shopping next to the Sheraton Hotel on Duarte Quirós, for a beautiful selection of handcrafts.

Craft fair:  weekends at Paseo de las Artes, La Cañada and Achával Rodríguez, 18-23 summer, winter 16 to 22.

More information from the Casa de Córdoba in Buenos Aires, Callao 332, tel. 4372-2725/2602/2638/6566, or check www.Córdoba.com.ar.

© Copyright 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, Richard W. Tripp, Jr.