Argentina has a fascinating history with a myriad of cultures and traditions within its borders. Argentines are rightly proud of this and from the petrgoglyphs and cave paintings of Patagonia to the modern museums, such as the Glaciarium and the MAAM, the history of Argentina and the culture is carefully preserved and open for everyone to see.
Ideal time to travel
All year round
Where in Argentina
Salta & the Northwest | The Iguazú Waterfalls | The Sierras of Cordóba | The Vineyards of Mendoza | Buenos Aires & the Pampas | The Patagonian Lake District | The Whales of Peninsula Valdes | The Glaciers National Park | Tierra del Fuego & Antarctica
More on the History of Argentina
Argentina was named for the silver deposits believed to be buried in large deposits inland. The natives talked of a White king, who lived in the hills accessible through the Rio de la Plata (River of Silver), although in reality these deposits were much further away beyond the river into Bolivia.
After some unsuccessful attempts the Spanish eventually established a colony on the site of what is now Buenos Aires (1580) establishing it as part of the viceroyalty of Peru. As Argentina lacked precious metal wealth the Spanish largely ignored it for the next 200 years.
In 1776 the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata was established enabling the region to legally take part in trade and commerce of its own, helping the region to flourish from trade in goods and leather from the vast cattle herds, which had vastly multiplied in number after being abandoned by the first settlers and left to breed amidst the grassy pampas for many years.
With news of Napoleon’s conquering of Spain (1810), and bolstered by the locally led defeat of two British invasions of Buenos Aires (1806 and 1807), the May revolution successfully ousted the Spanish crown’s control over Buenos Aires and over the next years the war of independence waged irresolute over Argentina before General Jose de San Martin, Argentina’s most revered figure, famously crossed the Andes with his Army into Chile to defeat the royalists there, liberating Argentina and Chile. Independence was formally declared on 9th July 1816 in Tucuman, Argentina.
Over the next 60 years a turbulent period of several civil wars defined the borders of modern day Argentina. The northern part of the country, especially Buenos Aires, developed politically and economically while the south and Patagonia were still untamed and wild. In the late 18th century the Conquest of the Desert consisted of several military campaigns over some years with the objective of pacifying the lands to the south.
This expansion of territory benefited the county’s economy with the subsequent change to industrialised farming and greater European immigration, then in the late 19th century the invention of refrigerated shipping allowed Argentina to capitalise on its huge cattle stock and start exporting meat to Europe and it’s large armies. Making Argentina one of the richest countries in the world, up until the worldwide Great Depression (1929).
Throughout the mid 20th century Argentina saw great decline as a succession of military coups and de facto governments damaged the economy and politcal structure of the country. With the rise of Peronism the political environment become more polarised with the increasing violence culminating in the 1976 military coup that resulted in the Dirty War.
It was an incredibly violent period of unrest pitting the military government against leftist guerrilla groups that resulted in an estimated 12,000-30,000 disappeared persons; arrested, tortured and executed without trial. After the invasion of the Falkland Islands (1982) and the subsequent defeat at the hands of the British, the military government bowed to public pressure and stepped down as democratic elections were held again in 1983.
During the 1990’s Argentina led a large federal fiscal deficit that created huge external debt. In 2001 this defaulted, the economy collapsed and the peso rapidly devaluated causing capital flight. The government responded by freezing all peso assets causing much unrest and rioting among the populace.
There was a succession of presidents until things stabilised in 2003 and elections were held voting in the present dynasty of Kirchnerism with Nestor Kirchner.
Argentina saw a strong economic rebound during the next decade, mainly due to the soybean boom where argentine farmers switched to soybean production to satisfy demand from Asia. With the very low labour and production costs after the 2001 default, great margins were made on rising world food prices.
Today Nestor’s wife, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, enjoys strong public support though she is under much criticism due to the troubled economy, corruption, lavish public spending, deteriorated infrastructure and economic default over failure to pay the national debt.
More on the Culture of Argentina
Most Argentines are descendents of European immigrants and keep close ties to their ancestors’ motherlands. The culture is an eclectic mix of old world Europe and indigenous America.
For the arts, earlier generations of intellectuals, writers, composers, filmmakers, and visual artists looked to European models, the country has developed artistic forms that are uniquely Argentine—most famously the tango, as well as the mystically philosophical stories of Jorge Luis Borges.
There are contrasts between the city culture and the countryside culture but together they form the Argentine essence; with the urban areas setting trends and fashions, the interior has given Argentina its most important cultural identity, the gaucho.
The gaucho was a nomadic outcast with mestizo origins, riding the open pampas herding wild horses and cattle. The gaucho eventually became to be seen as a character whose self-sufficient life taught him survival, courage, indifference to hardship, and love of the land- traits that represented the ideal of the national character as set out in the national epic poem El Gaucho Martin Fierro (1872) by José Hernández.