The historic heart of Buenos Aires, El Centro is still the focus of contemporary civic and commercial life. Plaza de Mayo is the original main square, and civic buildings both past and present are clustered between it and Plaza Congreso. Many of Argentina's most historic events—including revolutions, demonstrations, and terrorist attacks—took place on this square. Bullet-marked facades, sidewalks embedded with plaques, and memorials where buildings once stood are reminders of all this history, and the protesters who fill the streets regularly are history in the making.
More upbeat gatherings—picture open-air concerts, soccer victory celebrations, post-election reveling—take place around the Obelisco, a scaled-down Washington Monument lookalike that honors the founding of Buenos Aires. Inescapably phallic, it's the butt of local jokes about male insecurity in this oh-so-macho city. It's even dressed in a giant red condom each year on AIDS Awareness Day.
The city's most highbrow cultural events are hosted a few blocks away in the spectacular Teatro Colón, and the highest-grossing theatrical productions line Avenida Corrientes. The center of Argentina's biggest scandals is Tribunales, the judicial district around Plaza Lavalle. Commercial action, meanwhile, revolves around brash Calle Florida: its high-street stores and fast-food joints keep the area’s army of office workers in cool suits and hot lunches.
Building buffs get their biggest kicks in this part of town, too. Architectural wonders of yesteryear—French-inspired domes and towers with Iberian accents—line grand avenues, as do dreamy art deco theaters and monumental Peronist constructions.