Buenos Aires means ‘good air’ in Spanish, but does that mean that when the Spanish arrived here, they thought that the Air was Good? It seems like it! Also many friends or aquantancies of mine like to joke about that : “is the air good in Buenos Aires?”, they like to ask.
That the air is far from good today, is something that is beyond doubt. When a bus or an old truck passes you automaticaly hold your breath in an effort not te get poisened. But we can imagine that in 1537 the air was quite good here. But that does not seem to justify the name. Who on earth in the 16th century would have the audacity to call a city ‘Good Air’, instead of giving it the name of a king or queen (Carlos or Isabella), or to name it after the general who conquered or founded the place (Pedro de Mendoza), or after a saint? Right, no one.
But when Pedro de Mendoza came to Buenos Aires, he built a fortress. This fortress he didn’t call Buenos Aires, he called it “Fuerte de Nuestra Señora del Buen Ayre”. Right. A saint.
This is how the story goes.
In 1370 there was a ship that had gotten into a very bad storm in the mediterranian sea, and it was about to be wrecked. In an effort to save the ship, the sailors started to throw their load into the sea. At the same moment that one of the boxes touched the water, the storm stopped. This particular box showed them the course to the coast, which then saved their lives. They set foot on land at the bottom of the mountain called “Bonaria”. At the top of the mountain there was a monastery, and the sailors took the ‘magic’ box and brought it to the monks.When the monks opened the box, they found a picture of the saint “Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria” and from that moment, this Señora de la Candelaria was also called “la Señora de la Bonaria”. And above this, this saint got the ‘job’ to protect all sailors.
Traveling the seven seas to find India, or ‘new land’, was a very dangerous job. Many ships perished, many sailors never came back. So before sailing off to the Americas, many ships first passed by Bonaria (which is on the island of Sardinia, next to the Italian coast) to get the blessing of this saint. So did Pedro de Mendoza before he set sail to the west. Promissing that the 1st city he would found would be named after this saint.
He didn’t found a ‘city’, as to have a city you need to have a ‘cabildo’, the cabildo was build only in 1580. So he officially founded a ‘fortress’, which he called ‘Fuerte de Nuestra Señora del Buen Ayre”. Which later became the for us so famous (and loved) ‘Buenos Aires’.
So if the Airs in 1537 here were good or bad, it didn’t matter at all.
source : “Argentinos, quinientos años entre el cielo y el infierno”, by Jorge Lanata
BTW, this fortress didn’t end up well. It is said that even before setting foot on the ground, the sailors were dying of hunger and thurst. The first 6 sailors that set foot on land were said to be eaten by tigers. In the beginning, the Indians gave the sailors food, but then for no known reason the Indians stopped doing that. All the inhabitants of the new fortress died of hunger and deseases…