In the late 1800s, yellow fever was a major public health issue in Buenos Aires, with several epidemics devastating the city’s population. San Telmo, with its narrow streets, poor sanitation, and many immigrant residents, was particularly vulnerable to the spread of the disease.
During the yellow fever epidemic, San Telmo was hit hard, with many residents falling ill and dying. In an effort to contain the disease, the government implemented quarantine measures, which involved isolating infected individuals and their families in their homes, often for weeks or even months at a time.
The quarantine measures significantly impacted San Telmo, as the neighborhood became known as a place where people were forced to live in isolation due to yellow fever. This reputation persisted long after the epidemics had subsided, and San Telmo became associated with disease and poverty.
This part of Buenos Aires is strongly connected to the Zanjon de Granados, a must-see tour! First, what is a zanjón? It is like a natural canal forming a stream of water. We have visited El Zanjón de Granados.
In the ravines of the Zanjón some historians locate the site of the first foundation of Buenos Aires in 1536. The remains of the city were never found, but we have the testimony of Ulrico Schmidl, companion of the founder Don Pedro de Mendoza and the first historian of the Río de la Plata.
This complex is located in the last block of the southern area of the city, founded in 1580 by Juan de Garay (second foundation). This was not the last by chance but by the physical fact that a stream ran through this block, one of the three that carried the waters from the city’s highlands to the Río de la Plata, which in those years was only 150 meters away from this space instead of the 2 km that separate us from it today. These streams were called the Terceros, and this one in particular, El Tercero del Sur, was known as El Zanjón de Granados.
Now, this place is part of a group of buildings, including the Casa Mínima and another at Chile Street, and of course, the tunnels under them. They have been bringing back a bit of history since their accidental discovery in 1985. Understanding how it was from the richest place in town, when these houses were constructed, until later, after the families ran away from yellow fever and the use for commerce and as conventillos, where the poorest and great number of workers used to live. We highly recommend you take the tour. It is not expensive, and you can learn while you walk through the restored buildings.