Riche comme un Argentin

Would you like to be rich? Do you dream of being rich? Do you work very hard to get very rich?

If you answer is yes, than I ask you why? Why? What would you like to do with the money?

Do you want to show off? Have all the stuff the people around you have? Have a nice house and a sports car? Do you want to give it to the community? Build something grand?

There are loads of possibilities that we would all fill in according to our needs and expectations. Or perhaps according to our craziness.

But there is rich. And there is Rich.

The rich with a capital R you could find in Argentina, in the first half of the 20th century. The Rich then were so rich you have to gasp at what they did with their money. There is the Anchorena family who build the incredible Palacio (now called) San Martin, there is the Paz family who built the Palacio Paz (to name just a two). The country was in the top 10 of richest countries in the world, richer than France or Germany at that time.

Riche comme un Argentin
(rich like an Argentine)

French saying

Now let us gasp at Mr Luis Barolo. An Italian immigrant who arrived in Argentina in 1890, who then became a successful farmer and businessman. He was worried about the wars in Europe and thought the whole ‘old’ continent would be destroyed. He was quite the pessimist!

Nonetheless, he was convinced that Argentina and the New World were the future. He decided, with the help of the Italian architect Mario Palanti, to build some office spaces that he would rent out. Up to here, nothing spectacular in the story. But now it comes.

Mr Barolo is fascinated, or should I say obsessed, with Dante Alighieri, the writer, another Italian (1265-1321). He wants to construct a building based on his book the Divine Comedy.

The place is huge, 1365m2, a front of 33 meter, it has 22 floors , and being 100 meter high, which was 4 times higher than was maximum allowed, it was the highest building in Latin America.

Apart from its impressive size, it’s the theme and the details that are striking. Dante writes about the voyage towards God, through hell, purgatory and then to heaven. The building is divided in these 3 parts, and every little detail is carefully thought of and in relation with something in the book ; the amount of floors, the height of the building, the amount of decoration, the light coming into the building, etc. At the top there is an amazing lighthouse (my favorite spot) that represents the 9 angelic choirs. It is absolutely stunning.

The fact that you can build something of this exquisite beauty, -just because you can- all around the theme of a book you like, seems something only Walt Disney would do.

In case all this is not enough to gasp, there is the why he did what he did. The story goes that he was so obsessed with Dante, that he was in terror that the wars in Europe would destroy Dante’s ashes; he needed to construct a new safe haven to guard them, and what better then a huge building literally representing Dantes voyage through hell, purgatory and up to heaven?

Only Mr Barolo can do such a thing.

Sitting down in the lighthouse at the top of the building, looking at the sunset over my favorite city, I realize that I am delighted that Mr Barolo was not just crazy but also crazy rich. Maybe he didn’t live to enjoy his creation, but I sure do!

Of course, Europe didn’t vanish, Dante’s ashes are still in Italy, and poor Mr Barolo passed away just a few months before the inauguration of the building.

Photo by Zoya Loonohod on Unsplash

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