Post updated: 17/11/2018 | November 2018
“I do not recommend you go there unless you are a priest or a doctor,'” warned Santiago, our guide for the morning, gesturing toward the adjacent block. In case there was any doubt, an effigy of Pope Francis also pointed away from the offending corner.
La Boca is a bit of a strange beast. For one or two blocks, it is super-touristy. The action is centred on El Caminito with its colourful houses, live tango and flashy art galleries. However, stray off the well-trodden tourist path, and you hit the start of the slums. As I found out on a walking tour of La Boca, there is more to this historic Buenos Aires barrio than Instagrammable streets.
The history of La Boca
The first part of La Boca walking tour focused on the barrio’s history. Immigration and isolation from the rest of the city have given La Boca’s its distinct identity. The Spanish rocked up at its shores around 1536 and housed African slaves in the area. Fast-forward to 1816 when the Spanish were booted out, Argentina gained its independence and the slaves were freed.
Fourteen years later, there was an influx of immigrants from Genoa, Italy. As Genoa was a port city, they felt at home at Buenos Aires’ waterfront. These new arrivals needed a roof over their heads but could only afford to build houses from metal sheets liberated from the docks. They painted their houses with whatever leftover paint they could lay their hands on but, as they did not have enough paint of the same colour to cover an entire house, a colourful patchwork evolved.
In the 1950s and artist and philanthropist, Quinquela Martínwas, painted the houses in the fashion of these poor immigrants in a bid to revive the area. The result is what we see today in all its multicolour glory.