Santiago del Estero is a provincial capital with a provincial feel. During the siesta hours, the only action is this city on the west bank of the RĂo Dulce is the water spilling in Plaza Libertadâ€™s fountain. On Sundays, it is a virtual ghost town. Businesses are closed, and the streets deserted. It seems all the townâ€™s residents are at Parque Francisco de Aguirre, a large, eucalyptus-shaded green space down by the river. The 2.5-hectare (6.2-ac) park contains botanical gardens, a zoo, sporting fields and the municipal campground. Perhaps the city is taking a well-deserved rest, after centuries of being a vital player in Spainâ€™s colonization of Argentina.
After the Spanish killed Atahualpa and controlled Cuzco, they began following the extensive Incan road system, exploring their new conquest. One road led CapitĂˇn Diego de Rojas into the RĂo Dulce river valley, in 1543. Already the area was heavily populated by the agricultural TonocotĂ© and semi-nomadic Lule indigenous nations. Spaniard Francisco de Aguirre established Santiago del Estero a decade later (1553). It earned the nickname Mother of Cities, as from here San Miguel de TucumĂˇn, Salta, CĂłrdoba, LondrĂ©s (Catamarca Province) and other towns were founded. Santiago del Estero was the first capital of the GobernaciĂłn de TucumĂˇn. The cityâ€™s early wealth was based on the forced labor of an estimated 80,000 natives. In addition, it had a significant African population, amounting to 54% of the population. No trace remains, save documents of the slave trade. After Independence, immigrants came from the full length of the Americas, from the United States to Uruguay, and from Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
In the late 16th century, San Francisco Solano traveled through the region, converting the indigenous to Christianity. The simple cell he lived in while in Santiago is now part of the Convento de San Francisco. In the complex is also the Museo de Arte Sacro, displaying 17th-19th century religious art (Av Roca 716 Sur, Tel: 421-1548. Entry: adults $0.80; retirees, children $0.60).
Another church of note is the Convento de Santo Domingo (Urquiza and 25 de Mayo). Displayed within this temple is the only faithful replica of the Shroud of Turin that exists in the Americas. Facing Plaza Libertad is the Catedral BasĂlica Nuestra SeĂ±ora del Carmen (1876) which has a richly decorated interior. The old cabildo (colonial city hall) fronts the plazaâ€™s north side. This building now is the Centro Cultural del Bicentenario, housing three of Santiago del Esetroâ€™s most important museums (Libertad 439).
Santiago del Estero is the center of the same-named province. One of the countryâ€™s foremost bombo (drum) makers, FroilĂˇn El Indio GonzĂˇlez, has his workshop here. To the south of the city is the Camino Real, a tourist route of artisan villages like Upianita. To the north of Santiago is Termas del RĂo Hondo, considered Argentinaâ€™s best hot springs.
(Altitude: 187 m / 614 ft, Population: 244,567, Phone Code: 0385)
Upon re-declaring her independence at age 29, Lorraine Caputo packed her trusty Rocinante (so her knapsack's called) and began...