Buenos Aires: El Ateneo – The Most Beautiful Bookstore in the World

 

El Ateneo Grand Splendid is easily one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world. Originally a theatre in the Barrio Norte neighborhood of Buenos Aires, El Ateneo Grand Splendid was saved from disrepair and transformed into a bookstore to continue its cultural legacy. The transformation was complete with El Ateneo Grand Splendid opening on December 4, 2000.

El Ateneo Grand Splendid

El Ateneo Grand Splendid

History

El Gran Splendid (The Grand Splendid) originally opened on June 19, 1903 with over nine hundred seats. The theatre was remodeled in 1919 and renamed El Splendid (The Splendid), reopening on May 14, 1919.

The upper class of Buenos Aires had already migrated to Barrio Norte a few years earlier and the theatre became the crown jewel of the neighborhood. At this time Buenos Aires was gaining a reputation for being the “Paris of South America“.

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El Ateneo Grand Splendid - Painted Dome

El Ateneo Grand Splendid – Painted Dome

The Dome

Nazareno Orlandi, an Italian painter who came to Buenos Aires in 1889, created the painting in the center of the dome. It is a story of Peace created in tribute to the end of World War I.

Orlandi ultimately produced numerous pieces in Argentina including the central dome of the Iglesia del Salvador on Callao Avenue in Buenos Aires and paintings in Cordoba and Santa Fe. He has works at the Museum of Modern Art in Rome and the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Buenos Aires.

 

El Ateneo Grand Splendid

El Ateneo Grand Splendid – House View

Through the Years

In the 1920’s the Grand Splendid was home to the first radio broadcasting shows. The first radio station was named after the theater – Radio Splendid. Tango concerts and contests were also performed. A record label had its home on the upper floors of the building and Carlos Gardel – the King of Tango – a singer, songerwriter and actor – was one of the artists to perform at the Grand Splendid. The first sound film in Buenos Aires was shown here. In the 1960’s stage performances were still being held and from 1973 to 2000 the Grand Splendid was primarily used as a cinema.

View more photos in Buenos Aires around the Avenida de Mayo neighborhood.

El Ateneo Grand Splendid - Panorama

El Ateneo Grand Splendid – Panorama

El Ateneo Grand Splendid 7 - Stage Curtain

El Ateneo Grand Splendid 7 – Stage Curtain

New Life

In 2000, as cinema complexes were taking over, Grupo ILHSA took on the task of protecting the theater and converting it into a bookstore. While preserving the original architecture, the theater was transformed into a engaging bookstore.

The main change to the architecture was an oval cut into the floor in the main seating area. This change exposed the basement and an escalator was installed to give access to the newly created children’s section of the bookstore downstairs. The stage is now a coffee shop with a seating area. Nonetheless the dramatic red curtain and spotlights still adorn the stage.

El Ateneo Grand Splendid 12 - Exterior View

El Ateneo Grand Splendid – Exterior View

The main level of the theater holds most of its books, DVDs and CDs. The upper balconies are primarily used as reading areas. There are over two hundred thousand books in El Ateneo Grand Splendid. With a special area for music and cinema there are twenty five thousand CDs and ten thousand DVDs in stock. The bookstore also holds many presentations, exhibits and conferences.

Since opening as a bookstore, fourteen million visitors have come through the doors.

Keeping all of its original theatrical intent, the bookstore is a wonderful place to spend a few hours. It is an especially welcome oasis with its air conditioning on a hot and humid March South American summer’s day.

El Ateneo publishing house opened in 1912 and marked its centennial in 2012.

View more photos of Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

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Have you been to
El Ateneo Grand Splendid?

Share your experience in the comments below.


Visit El Ateneo Grand Splendid at:

Av. Santa Fe; 1860 Cap. Fed.
Buenos Aires, Argentina

Phone: 4813.6052 / 4811.6104

Hours:
Monday to Thursday from 9:00 to 22:00, Friday and Saturday from 9:00 to 24:00, Sunday from 12:00 to 22:00



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Lisa Kuhn

Writer
Lisa has traveled through South America for three months exploring Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina. She also traveled extensively in the Western United States including Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, Montana and South Dakota. Lisa has traveled to Europe three times including her first trip in Europe backpacking for three months of solo-travel.

2 responses to “Buenos Aires: El Ateneo – The Most Beautiful Bookstore in the World”

  1. Oooh, I loved it here when we visited in April. In fact, Buenos Aires is full of amazing bookshops. I miss them! Great to know some of the history too. Thanks 🙂

    • Lisa says:

      Thanks Victoria! I really enjoyed learning more about the bookstore while I was writing this article. Such a gorgeous bookstore and city. I miss it a lot too! Great to look back on where we have been. Cheers!

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