I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.”

~Jorge Luis Borges

El Ateneo Grand Splendid

If there ever were a more beautiful place to look for books, it would have to be the impossibly special El Ateneo Grand Splendid. The name says it all about Buenos Aires’ 1919 theatre-turned cinema-turned bookshop: It is grand and it is splendid, and it’s a stunning example of transforming a gem of an architectural space into a modern new use while maintaining its original charm and beauty.

The summer sun was already in full force as we made our way through the early morning streets to Avenida Santa Fe in the Bario Norte. El Ateneo Grand Splendid’s marquee-like exterior was easy to spot, and once inside, it almost seemed as if a ticket-taker and popcorn machine would be perched by the front door.

It’s the stage that really draws you in, with ruby-red curtains hanging ever-so elegantly, ready for the show to begin. Frescoes in muted tones decorate the ceiling, and ornate theatre boxes and column-like pillars with gilded embellishments ring around the periphery. And amid of all of this early 20th-century wonderment are, of course, the books!

Even the escalators blend seamlessly, as if they have always been part of the space.

The stage where tango dancers once performed is now a café.
Another view of the boxes and balconies.
A closer look at the columns and embellishments.
The frescoed ceiling soars above the stage.
Rows and rows of books are so appealing in the space.

Teatro Colón

From El Ateneo Grand Splendid we headed to another theatre, Teatro Colón, the main opera house in Buenos Aires, ranked as one of the acoustically best concert venues in the world. We had stopped at the ticket office a day earlier to secure spots in one of the English-speaking tours. Tours in English are limited, but additional guided visits are offered in the summer months.

Our guide first ushered our group of about twenty to the Grand Foyer, giving us a chance to take photos as she explained the history of the theatre. Teatro Colón was completed in 1908, replacing the original building that had opened in 1857. It closed for renovations in 2006 and reopened in 2010. Throughout its history, world-renowned opera singers and ballet dancers have appeared on its stage.

Looking up from the Grand Foyer.
Windows to the second floor hallway.
This stained glass in the Grand Foyer reminded me of a kaleidoscope.

Next we headed up the staircase to the Golden Hall, a lavish space designed in the styles of France’s Palace of Versailles and the Garnier Paris Opéra. Our guide said that in the early days of the theatre, you could only enter the Golden Hall if you spoke French, confirming that you were from an upper class. Today, she added, everyone is welcome.

Famous composers decorate doorways on the way to the Golden Hall.
The Golden Hall, with its Versailles-influenced design.
Another exquisite ceiling.

Our final stop was the main attraction – the concert hall and stage. Seven levels, 2,400 seats and standing room for about 500, all amid a sea of red velvet and gold. We were seated in the Gala Box on the second level, considered to offer the best view in the theatre. And as an additional perk in this coveted box, the red velvet seats have armrests.

View of the stage from the Gala Box.
Looking into one of the boxes.
The seven levels are designed in a horseshoe shape around the stage.
Looking up into the theatre’s dome.

A Change In Climate

Our tour ended where it had begun. I had hoped we would have been given a brief demonstration of the acoustics of Teatro Colón, but that was not part of the tour. Our guide encouraged everyone to return sometime for a performance. I smiled and nodded as if to say, “Maybe sometime,” knowing that sometime would be a long way off, if at all. For now, we had a ship to board and an exciting journey ahead.

Later that afternoon, Herb and I settled into our cabin on the Seabourn Quest. The bright orange parkas waiting for us signaled a change in climate. After a stop in Uruguay, we would be putting away our summer clothes and getting ready for our voyage to Antarctica. We stood on our verandah, watching Buenos Aires fade in the distance, filled with anticipation about the adventure to come.


  • You truly captured the grandeur of Buenos Aires….I wonder if some of the
    Workers were Roman….I would be very curious about the acoustics….it is
    Possible that some touring orchestra travel to perform there…the closest
    We have to that in New York is Carnegie Hall…great work and photography…
    I could feel the waves of the water and the sun gleaming down in the waves..

  • I just ran into a friend of mine who travels the world and is a patron of
    The arts. He has been to Buenos Aires
    Several times and has been to performances at the concert hall…
    He said the acoustics are very good
    But when it was built Argentina did not
    Have a lot of money and he felt that
    Was a factor in the quality of construction…he is of course very spoiled! It certainly. Looks good enough for me!

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