The Most Beautiful Bookstore in the World:
El Ateneo Grand Splendid – Buenos Aires, Argentina
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 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. During this time Buenos Aires was gaining a reputation for being the “Paris of South America“.
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.
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, songwriter 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.
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.
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.
Visit El Ateneo Grand Splendid
Av. Santa Fe; 1860 Cap. Fed.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Website: Official Buenos Aires Government Tourism Site
Phone: 4813.6052 / 4811.6104
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
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 :)
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!