La Boca is a Buenos Aires area famous for its colorful houses, its tango, and the Boca Juniors football team. This is one of those places that every visitor to the capital of Argentina should see.
La Boca’s main street is El Caminito’s cobblestone pavement, decorated with vibrant facades that make La Boca’s photos perfect. Named after the 1926 tango song, the pedestrian walkway has an open fair where artists sell their goods and tourists stand along the sidewalk and photograph the locals dancing the tango.
But La Boca is much more than what meets the eye of an ordinary tourist. Like the Lower East Side of New York and the East End in London, La Boca was the area where new immigrants first settled when they arrived in Buenos Aires.
The area got its name from its location at the mouth of the Riojuelo River, as is usually called the Matanza River. It is very convenient to sail here by boat and therefore historians say that the Spaniards first arrived in La Boca already in 1536.
During the early colonial expansion, colonialists placed African slaves in this area. After Argentina gained independence, many liberated remained. With the advent of the industrial revolution, La Boca has become a sandy shipyard with meat processing plants and tanneries.
The settlement, Tango and Lunfardo
The mass settlement of La Boca began in 1830 with an influx of immigrants from Genoa, Italy. Originally from the port city, the Genoese naturally settled along the waterfront of Buenos Aires. There were so many Genoese in La Bauque at the time that some say the name is a by-product of the name Boccadasse, a district in Genoa.
New arrivals built residential buildings from scrap metal and painted shacks with bright remains of marine paint to revitalize the one-time wasteland. Soon immigrants from Spain, France, England, Ireland, Eastern Europe, Greece, and others joined the Italians. An intercultural mix spawned tango, although the term would not be coined until the late 1890s. Factory and port workers were about to dance in the central halls of the houses and compete to attract the attention of the few women available at that time.
La Boca also played a fundamental role in creating Argentine slang, Lunfardo. The dictionary grew out of cocoliche, a combination of Italian dialects that immigrants used to communicate with each other. Even the district’s famous football team, La Boca Juniors, is also called Los Xeneizes, derived from the word “Genoese” in the Italian dialect.
By the end of the 19th century, the area became the second largest inhabited area in Buenos Aires, but the construction of a new port in Puerto Madero meant that shipping would move north. When Argentina entered its golden era, the inhabitants moved further inland, and a recession began in La Boca.
La Boca revival
The revival of El Caminito and La Boca in the 1950s was led by artist Quinquela Martin. The famous orphan was abandoned at birth, adopted and spent most of his childhood in La Boca. After studying drawing at La Boca night school, he became one of Argentina’s most famous artists and a major philanthropist.
After the General Rock railway, which ran here, closed in 1954, Martin decided to work to save the barrio (district). He gathered neighbors to paint the vibrant colors of houses, imitating the early immigrants. Artists began conducting theater productions here, using colorful houses as part of the backdrop.
Security in La Boca
As in most places where a popular tourist attraction is located in the middle of an economically disadvantaged area, La Boca can be dangerous for visitors who deviate from the tourist route.
Most tourists just have to see El Caminito, its several surrounding streets and La Bombonera stadium, where Diego Maradona became the “God” for his fans. For low-budget travelers who want to explore more of the surroundings, there are many interesting places here, just don’t carry anything that you cannot afford to lose.