Many people pass by this massive, high Victorian structure on Avenida Córdoba in Barrio Norte and stop in wonder. This is Buenos Aires's Water Palace, a fantastic structure of more than 300,000 lustrous, multicolored faience bricks made by Royal Doulton and shipped from Britain. Its original interior engineering components were made in various countries, with Belgium as the largest contributor. Originally, the Water Palace was meant to be a humble building, constructed as a response to the yellow fever epidemic that hit San Telmo and other neighborhoods in Buenos Aires in 1877. In the days before plumbing, drinking water was held in collecting pools in individual homes, which helped to spread the disease. Alarmed, the city began looking for a spot to construct new, sanitary facilities to prevent another outbreak. As this was the highest point in the city, meaning water stored here could use gravity to flow down the pipes into residences, this location was chosen for the water tower.
However, two things happened that changed the plans, creating the 1887 building seen here now. First, Buenos Aires was made the capital of Argentina in 1880, and the city planners felt the building must not only serve a purpose but also reflect the glory of a new nation seeking its place in the world. (Still, Argentina did not have the technology, hence the need for foreign help in construction.) In addition, the yellow fever epidemic itself meant that the area surrounding this location was quickly filling up with new mansions for wealthy families fleeing San Telmo. The water purification building not only needed to fit in its surroundings, but also to outshine them.
The engineering works have been removed, and the building is now the headquarters of the water company Aguas Argentinas. It also contains one of the most unusual museums in the whole city, one kids will get a kick out of. Explaining the history of water sanitation in Argentina and the world, this museum is home to hundreds of toilets spanning the decades. Some are dissected, showing their interior workings. Others are multifunctional prison toilets with sink and toilet joined together, along with faucets, giant sewer pipes, and anything to do with waterworks. The museum also has an extensive library with plans, books, and other materials related to waterworks around the world, making it a worthwhile stop for students and engineers.
- © Frommer's 2013
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