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La Rioja

La Rioja is a city that almost didn’t survive. Faced with unrelenting climate, indigenous rebellions and economic depression, it gained firmer footing in the second half of the 20th century. Today La Rioja has a healthier glow. The desert heat still dictates a long afternoon siesta, but once evening’s cool begins to slink through the streets, shops reopen. At the many sidewalk cafés around Plaza 25 de Mayo, the spot where this city was founded over four centuries ago, people gather for a coffee, goblet of Riojano wine or a light meal. Some folks stop into museums or catch a movie.


For over 10,000 years humans have lived in this Valle del Yacampis. Their descendents, the Cacán, were an agricultural society that made beautiful pottery and—so it seems by the sheer number of instruments unearthed—lots of music. They protected the valley by a series of pucarás (fortresses) in the Quebrada Los Sauces to the west. Their world became discordant when, in 1591, Juan Ramírez de Velazco and his Spaniards arrived to found Todos los Santos de la Nueva Rioja: All Saints, to call upon every holy soul in the calendar, to ensure the settlement’s survival in a harsh environment.


These Europeans, however, were not good neighbors. They were greedy and enslaved the Cacán. In response, the indigenous rose up in 1593. Franciscan friar Francisco Solano went to negotiate with the 9,000 warriors and 45 caciques determined to end the Spanish mistreatment. The army accepted peace on two conditions: that the alcalde (mayor) resign and Niño Dios replace him. Every December 31, this historical event is recreated in the Tikunaco, or Meeting.


The Tikunaco did not spell the end of problems for the Spaniards. For the next three decades, the Calchaquíes, a northern nation, tried to force the Conquistadores out. The city was almost abandoned. But the Europeans dug their heels in, and eventually defeated Cacique Chalimín, whose head was displayed for months on the main plaza. La Rioja went on to play its roles in the Congreso de Tucumán, San Martín’s Andean campaign and the 19th century’s civil wars, which ended with the battle at Pozo de Vargas, three kilometres (1.8 mi) north of the city (Av Caseros, 200 m / 660 ft west of Av Alem). The city experienced a boom at the end of the 19th century, but fell into a deep depression after the mine’s bankruptcy and 1894 earthquake. Finally in the 1960s and 70s, under the governorship of Guillermo Iribarren and Carlos Menem (who later was Argentine President), the city and province crawled out of poverty.


Few buildings survive from La Rioja’s colonial past. Iglesia San Francisco’s 16th century convent preserves San Francisco Solano’s cell and the orange tree he planted in 1592 (25 de Mayo and Bazán y Bustos). Iglesia Santo Domingo, built in 1623, is the oldest church (PB Luna and Lamadrid). Another mid-17th century building is Casa de Pazos Moreira, which is now the outstanding Museo Folklórico (Tuesday-Friday 9 a.m.-1 p.m., 4-8 p.m. PB Luna 811, Tel: 42-8500, URL: Entry: $0.60). West of town is Las Padercitas, a small stone chapel built around the adobe walls of a Spanish fortress where Solano lived while Christianizing the region. Next to it is Monumento al Tinkunaco, created by Mario Aciar in 1993. It is covered with carvings commemorating the meeting (Ruta Nacional 75, Km 7). Atop the hill behind Padercitas is the much-deteriorated Pucará de la Puerta.


La Rioja’s Cathedral (1899-1926) is home to San Nicolás de Bari, the city’s patron saint (San Nicolás de Bari and 25 de Mayo). San Nicolás receives many pilgrims who credit him with miracles. The antechamber of his ground-floor chapel is covered with devotos. The main chapel is upstairs, behind the altar. The Cathedral’s apse has murals depicting La Rioja’s history and veneration of San Nicolás.



(Altitude: 498 m / 1,634 ft, Population: 143,684, Phone Code: 03822)



Other places nearby La Rioja: San AgustĂ­n Del Valle FĂ©rtil, San Juan, Chilecito, Barreal, Valle De Iglesia and Calingasta.

By Lorraine Caputo

Upon re-declaring her independence at age 29, Lorraine Caputo packed her trusty Rocinante (so her knapsack's called) and began...

28 Sep 2010

Things to do in La Rioja

Museo Inca Huasi

141653Museo Inca Huasi contains an impressive collection of artifacts excavated by Fray Bernardino GĂłmez between 1927 and 1951. Though not a trained archeologist, this Franciscan friar unearthed over ...
La Rioja, Argentina

Iglesia Santo Domingo

141654On a corner courtyard squats a cobblestone church, Iglesia Santo Domingo. To the right is a free-standing campanile with two bells. The algarrobo doorway has flowers, the Dominican Order’s seal and ...
Historical Building
La Rioja, Argentina

Quebrada Los Sauces

Just west of La Rioja begins Quebrada Los Sauces. This canyon carved by the RĂ­o Los Sauces is a rugged landscape covered with algarooba, cardoon cactus, mistol and weeping willows (sauce llorĂłn). ...
La Rioja, Argentina
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