Seaman Juan Díaz de Solís, navigating in the name of Spain, was the first European to reach the Río de la Plata in 1516. His expedition was cut short when he was killed during an attack by the native Charrúa tribe in what is now Uruguay.
The city of Buenos Aires was first established as Ciudad de Nuestra Señora Santa María del Buen Ayre (literally "City of Our Lady Saint Mary of the Fair Winds") after Our Lady of Bonaria (Patroness Saint of Sardinia) on 2 February 1536 by a Spanish expedition led by Pedro de Mendoza. The settlement founded by Mendoza was located in what is today the San Telmo district of Buenos Aires, south of the city center.
More attacks by the indigenous people forced the settlers away, and in 1542 the site was abandoned. A second (and permanent) settlement was established in 1580 by Juan de Garay, who arrived by sailing down the Paraná River from Asunción (now the capital of Paraguay). He dubbed the settlement "Santísima Trinidad" and its port became "Puerto de Santa María de los Buenos Aires."
From its earliest days, Buenos Aires depended primarily on trade. During most of the 17th and 18th centuries, Spanish ships were menaced by pirates, so they developed a complex system where ships with military protection were dispatched to Central America, cross the land, from there to Lima, Peru and from it to the inner cities of the viceroyalty. Because of this, products took a very long time to arrive in Buenos Aires, and the taxes generated by the transport made them prohibitive. This scheme frustrated the traders of Buenos Aires, and a thriving contraband industry developed. This also instilled a deep resentment in porteños towards the Spanish authorities.
Sensing these feelings, Charles III of Spain progressively eased the trade restrictions and finally declared Buenos Aires an open port in the late 18th century. The capture of Porto Bello by British forces also fueled the need to foster commerce via the Atlantic route, to the detriment of Lima-based trade. One of his rulings was to split a region from the Viceroyalty of Perú and create instead the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata, with Buenos Aires as the capital. However, Charles's placating actions did not have the desired effect, and the porteños, some of them versed in the ideology of the French Revolution, became even more convinced of the need for Independence from Spain.
During the British invasions of the Río de la Plata, British forces attacked Buenos Aires twice. In 1806 the British successfully invaded Buenos Aires, but an army from Montevideo led by Santiago de Liniers defeated them. In the brief period of British rule, the viceroy Rafael Sobremonte managed to escape to Córdoba and designated this city as capital. Buenos Aires became again the capital after its liberation, but Sobremonte could not resume as viceroy. Santiago de Liniers, chosen as new viceroy, armed the city to be prepared against a possible new British attack, defeating the invasion attempt of 1807. The militarization generated in society changed the balance of power favorably for the criollos (in contrast to peninsulars), as well as the development of the Peninsular War in Spain. An attempt by the peninsular merchant Martín de Álzaga to remove Liniers and replace him with a Junta was defeated by the criollo armies. However, by 1810 it would be those same armies who would support a new revolutionary attempt, successfully removing the new viceroy Baltasar Hidalgo de Cisneros. This is known as the May Revolution, which is in present day celebrated as a national holiday. This event started the Argentine War of Independence, and many armies left Buenos Aires to fight the diverse strongholds of royalist resistance, with varying levels of success. The government was held first by two Juntas of many members, then by two triumvirates of only three members, and finally by an unipersonal office, the Supreme Director. Formal independence from Spain was declared in 1816, in the Congress of Tucumán. Buenos Aires managed to endure the whole Spanish American wars of independence without falling again into royalist rule.
Historically, Buenos Aires has been Argentina's main venue for liberal and free-trade ideas, while many of the provinces, especially to the northwest, advocated a more conservative Catholic approach to political and social issues. Much of the internal tension in Argentina's history, starting with the centralist-federalist conflicts of the 19th century, can be traced back to these contrasting views. In the months immediately following the 25 May Revolution, Buenos Aires sent a number of military envoys to the provinces with the intention of obtaining their approval. Many of these missions ended in violent clashes, and the enterprise fueled the tensions between the capital and the provinces.
In the 19th century the city was blockaded twice by naval forces: by the French from 1838 to 1840, and later by a joint Anglo-French expedition from 1845 to 1848. Both blockades failed to force the city into submission, and the foreign powers eventually desisted from their demands.
During most of the 19th century, the political status of the city remained a sensitive subject. It was already capital of Buenos Aires Province, and between 1853 and 1860 it was the capital of the seceded State of Buenos Aires. The issue was fought out more than once on the battlefield, until the matter was finally settled in 1880 when the city was federalized and became the seat of government, with its Mayor appointed by the President. The Casa Rosada became the seat of the President. Health conditions in poor areas were negative, with high rates of tuberculosis. Public-health physicians and politicians typically blamed both the poor themselves and their ramshackle tenement houses (conventillos) for the spread of the dreaded disease. People ignored public-health campaigns to limit the spread of contagious diseases, such as the prohibition of spitting on the streets, the strict guidelines to care for infants and young children, and quarantines that separated families from ill loved ones.
In addition to the wealth generated by the Buenos Aires Customs and the fertile pampas, railroad development in the second half of the 19th century increased the economic power of Buenos Aires as raw materials flowed into its factories. A leading destination for immigrants from Europe, particularly Italy and Spain, from 1880 to 1930 Buenos Aires became a multicultural city that ranked itself with the major European capitals. The Colón Theater became one of the world's top opera venues, and the city became the regional capital of radio, television, cinema, and theatre. The city's main avenues were built during those years, and the dawn of the 20th century saw the construction of South America's then-tallest buildings and the first underground system. A second construction boom from 1945 to 1980 reshaped downtown and much of the city.
Buenos Aires also attracted migrants from Argentina's provinces and neighboring countries. Shanty towns (villas miseria) started growing around the city's industrial areas during the 1930s, leading to pervasive social problems and social contrasts with the largely upwardly mobile Buenos Aires population. These laborers became the political base of Peronism, which emerged in Buenos Aires during the pivotal demonstration of 17 October 1945, at the Plaza de Mayo. Industrial workers of the Greater Buenos Aires industrial belt have been Peronism's main support base ever since, and Plaza de Mayo became the site for demonstrations and many of the country's political events; on 16 June 1955, however, a splinter faction of the Navy bombed the Plaza de Mayo area, killing 364 civilians (see Bombing of Plaza de Mayo). This was the only time the city was attacked from the air, and the event was followed by a military uprising which deposed President Perón, three months later (see Revolución Libertadora).
In the 1970s the city suffered from the fighting between left-wing revolutionary movements (Montoneros, E.R.P. and F.A.R.) and the right-wing paramilitary group Triple A, supported by Isabel Perón, who became president of Argentina in 1974 after Juan Perón's death.
The March 1976 coup, led by General Jorge Videla, only escalated this conflict; the "Dirty War" resulted in 30,000 desaparecidos (people kidnapped and killed by the military during the years of the junta). The silent marches of their mothers (Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo) are a well-known image of Argentines suffering during those times.
The dictatorship's appointed mayor, Osvaldo Cacciatore, also drew up plans for a network of freeways intended to relieve the city's acute traffic gridlock. The plan, however, called for a seemingly indiscriminate razing of residential areas and, though only three of the eight planned were put up at the time, they were mostly obtrusive raised freeways that continue to blight a number of formerly comfortable neighborhoods to this day.
The city was visited by Pope John Paul II twice: in 1982, because of the outbreak of the Falklands War, and a second visit in 1987, which gathered some of the largest crowds in the city's history. The return of democracy in 1983 coincided with a cultural revival, and the 1990s saw an economic revival, particularly in the construction and financial sectors.
On 17 March 1992 a bomb exploded in the Israeli Embassy, killing 29 and injuring 242. Another explosion, on 18 July 1994 destroyed a building housing several Jewish organizations, killing 85 and injuring many more, these incidents marked the beginning of Middle Eastern terrorism to South America.
Following a 1993 agreement, the Argentine Constitution was amended to give Buenos Aires autonomy and rescinding, among other things, the president's right to appoint the city's mayor (as had been the case since 1880). On 30 June 1996, voters in Buenos Aires chose their first elected mayor (Chief of Government).
On 30 December 2004 a fire at the República Cromagnon nightclub killed almost 200 people, one of the greatest non-natural tragedies in Argentine history.
The current mayor of the city is Mauricio Macri, elected in 2007 and re-elected in 2011.
On 22 February 2012, a train crashed at Once Station. Fifty-one people were killed and more than 700 were injured; the dead and seriously injured were in the first two carriages, which was packed with people who had moved to the front of the train to be near the station exit on arrival.
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