If intellectual travellers are seeking respite from the spirited streets of Buenos Aires, they need look no further than the magnificent El Ataneo Grand Splendid. And it’s not only the ostentatious name that calls on you to use every superlative in your arsenal to describe this bibliophile’s dream. From the finely painted Italian frescoes to the fastidiously fashioned goddess-like figures that support the upper floors, you are in no doubt when you enter that this is place where stars were born.
Created in 1919 for Argentinian music and movie mogul Max Glücksmann, the building’s original purpose as a theatre – largely for pre-eminent performers of tango to strut their stuff around – is still strongly evidenced to this day. Aside from dramatically draping red velvet curtains (always a dead giveaway), some bright spark also had the wonderful idea of turning the former royal boxes into small, but perfectly formed reading rooms. So grandiose is this spectacle, you could almost forget that its main purpose is as a bookshop, but once you’ve got over the initial smack of opulence, you’ll have over 120,000 tomes to entertain you.
Though you could say this ever evolving treasure began life with a silver spoon in its mouth, it has had its fair run of harder times too. Between its conversions from radio station and cinema to its current incarnation as a library, it has been threatened with demolition due to ups and downs in the country’s fortunes. Fortuitously for all, an eleventh hour rescue from current owners, Yenny, at the start of the millennium meant that this trove in a downtown district of one of the world’s most exciting cities has remained intact, ready to write a brand new chapter in its own rich history.