Posts from the ‘Paraguay’ category

Embarking to the Jesuit ruins of la Santísima Trinidad

By Jacob Aldridge

The more you travel, the more you encounter destination names that demonstrate a shared history. New York used to be called New Amsterdam – the change coincided with the English, not the Dutch, taking control of the city. Colonial powers often impart familiar names on new towns with similar attributes – both Newcastle, England, and Newcastle, Australia share a coal-mining tradition.

And sometimes these names spread far and wide, only for one of those locations to become larger or more famous. Tell your friends that you’re visiting Antigua, and chances are they’ll visualise the Caribbean island – not the “toast marshmallows over lava” volcano centre of Antigua, Guatemala.

Tell your friends you have a day trip to Trinidad, and their heads will fill with reggae music, rum, and cricket. Yet our day trip today is to Trinidad, Paraguay – we can play some reggae on the bus down from Asuncion, but it won’t fit in with the immense ruins of the Jesuit Missions of La Santisima Trinidad.

Overlooking some of La Santisima Trinidad, Paraguay, one of Paraguay's 7 Cultural Treasures.

Overlooking some of La Santisima Trinidad, Paraguay. Photo by David Holt, Licensed under CC License.

Today’s Experience

The Catholic Jesuit missionaries were on the ground in South America less than a century after the New World was ‘discovered’ by Christopher Columbus. Of course, this discovery came as a surprise to the millennia-old cultures that inhabited the region – and religion formed an essential part of colonial Spain (and later Portugal, France, and England) imposing their will on those indigenous inhabitants.

In hindsight, of course, it’s easy to pass judgement on the colonial missionaries. And while there were undoubtedly a few gold-hungry psychopaths among them, for the most part these were genuine men who believed the only way to eternal happiness was through the Catholic god, and that it was their responsibility to leave the relative comfort of a monastery in Spain with a one-way ticket to a continent filled with souls that could be saved with God’s love.

One of the original inhabitants, still on display in the Santisima Trinidad complex, Paraguay.

One of the original inhabitants, still on display. Photo by Paul Arps, Licensed under CC License.

They sacrificed themselves (and, let’s be fair, a large number of locals) to that aim. It’s worth viewing the Santísima Trinidad del Paraná Mission through that noble vision – there will be time for post-colonial judgement over beers in an English pub tonight.

Santisima Trinidad was founded in about 1706, and our guide takes us first to the museum on site where a scale model of the mission gives a view of its grandeur.

The ceilings and grand domes have long since fallen in, but the ruins that remain are still impressive. This is not a church, this is a village – from the central Plaza Mayor that forms a common central point in all colonial Spanish town planning, to the native houses, workshops, and cemeteries that are indicative of the Jesuit’s practical approach to spreading the word of God.

In the absence of ceilings, do these churches take us closer to God?

In the absence of ceilings, do these churches take us closer to God? Photo by Laembajada, Licensed under CC License.

Inside the church we can even see evidence of its decoration. Though worn by exposure to the weather, when they are pointed out by the experts it’s easy to note key elements of Christian art – crosses, for example – being combined here with native art. While little was done to respect the indigenous deities, effort was clearly made to put the Christian God into the social and cultural life of the original inhabitants, not just forcing them to change their entire way of life in order to conform.

No doubt for many thousands this imposition was unwelcome, undesirable, and lethal. Having accepted that, it is still possible to admire these buildings and this village – and consider what the local Guarani people, used to a semi-nomadic lifestyle in harmony with the land, must have felt when they first saw the brick church rising out of the ground.

Santisima Trinidad translates from Spanish as “The Most Holy Trinity”, and it’s not surprising that a name at the core of the Catholic faith can be found elsewhere across the colonies. There was even a ship Santisima Trinidad – at one time the heaviest in the world, it was sunk after surrendering to the English at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

Football - passion of the future Paraguayan generation.

Football – passion of the future generation. Photo by Arcadius, Licensed under CC License.

We return to Asuncion after a long day trip to discover that the evening here has only just begun – it’s just too hot to enjoy a party while the sun is out. So after dinner, we head to the Britannia Pub, where english can be heard (but spanish remains the majority language). Our intention was simply a few quiet drinks, but this is not a quiet location even on a Tuesday night. Asuncion, Paraguay is a young people’s city – almost two-thirds of its 500,000 inner-city residents are under the age of 30.

As we have a chance to meet and talk with some of the locals, our choice becomes clear. We can say goodbye to this cultural immersion now, mindful of our flight in the morning. Or we can embrace it, dive into the night and consequences be damned!

I know which one I’m choosing. Who’s staying out with me?

The city of Asuncion rises behind the Palacio de los López, one of Paraguay's 7 Cultural Treasures.

The city of Asuncion rises behind the Palacio de los López. Photo by Arcadius, Licensed under CC License.

Want to go? Need to know!

  • La Santisima Trinidad is one of the 7 Cultural Treasures of Paraguay.
  • Long day tours are available from Asuncion, or a self-drive option sticks mostly to the main roads of Route 1 (to Posadas) and then Route 6.
  • This trip takes you to very edge of the Paraguay-Argentina border. It’s possible to keep going from here to southern Brazil, Uruguay, or rural Argentina.

What do you think about colonial ruins – can they be properly appreciated without taking into consideration the less savoury aspects of colonisation? Let us know in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

The 7 Cultural Treasures of Asuncion, Paraguay

By Jacob Aldridge

Today’s Experience

It’s after midnight on Monday morning when the hotel car collects us from the airport, after the short flight from Rio de Janeiro in Brazil to today’s holiday destination, Asuncion Paraguay.

We’ve asked the driver to show us a flavour of the city, and he obliges by driving us past the Palacio de los López, the palace that serves as the Republic’s seat of government and home of the President. Lit up like this, we can see why the driver assures us it’s best seen at night.

The Palacio de los López at night, Asuncion Paraguay.

We can’t argue with the nighttime moment at the Palacio de los López. Photo by Marco Bogarin, CC License.

Our Monday morning proper starts with Terere. This is a cold version of the hot Mate drink – similar to tea, but with a distinctive herbal flavour. It’s also a communal activity; as we pass the cup around taking turns to refill and to drink from the metal bombilla straw, there are opportunities to reflect on the madness of the Rio Carnival weekend, and the much more peaceful days ahead of us in Paraguay.

We also make sure to dress lightly – this week will be cooler than last week here, but it’s still a sub-tropical summer and temperatures above 30°C (85°F) are expected.

Today sounds far more grand than it is full of effort. We have in mind a chance to see each of the 7 Cultural Treasures of Asuncion. These were chosen by popular vote in 2009, and we can’t argue with the selection.

Two of these won’t be part of today – the Palacio de los López we have already seen, and the striking Iglesia de la Santísima is actually located in the nearby town of Trinidad (no, the other one) – so we have to put that on tomorrow’s plans.

Our distinctive Hotel Guaraní against the Asuncion skyline. Paraguay's first 5 Star hotel, and a cultural heritage destination.

Our distinctive Hotel Guaraní against the Asuncion skyline. Photo by Loritoarai, CC License.

Next on the list is the easiest of the lot – we’re already staying here! The Guarani Esplendor Hotel completed construction in 1961 – had it merely been Paraguay’s first five star hotel, and so close to the government centre, that alone would have given it significance as the hotel chosen by foreign dignitaries.

Instead, it stepped beyond that function, creating an architectural form that symbolised the striking Brazilian school of that era (And is often mistakenly attributed to the Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer). Interior refurbishments ensure five star has evolved with the times; respect has ensured the facade remains an icon of Ascuncion, Paraguay, and South America.

Panteón Nacional de los Héroes, Asuncion Paraguay.

Panteón Nacional de los Héroes. Photo by Lett, Licensed under CC License.

We walk down the main street Senora de la Asuncion, with parkland on both sides, until turning into the Panteón Nacional de los Héroes. Often compared to Les Invalides in Paris, France, the Panteon is much smaller but similar respectful monument to the national heroes of war and peace. The most notable grave is former Paraguayan President Francisco Solano López, who also led the country in the War of the Triple Alliance – when Paraguay found itself at war with Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay from 1864-70. The impact of that conflict, which devastated Paraguay and may have killed up to 90% of its adult male population, can still be felt in the landlocked country’s poor regional living standards.

The Teatro Municipal Ignacio A. Pane, in downtown Asuncion Paraguay.

The Teatro Municipal Ignacio A. Pane, in downtown Asuncion.

Further along Chile (that’s the street, not the country), the facade of the Teatro Municipal (city theatre) Ignacio A. Pane stands out as a contrast of its original 19th Century spanish mission design and a more modern glass portico. The interior similarly embodies this evolution, as we shall find out later tonight.

At the very top end of Asuncion we meet our next, fifth, cultural treasure the Museo del Cabildo. This building has a storied history, from an original Jesuit home to an 1870 extension and creation of the Legislative Palace after the disaster of the War of the Triple Alliance, to its current incarnation as a Museum of Paraguayan history. It’s worth noting across the Plaza the striking glass building – not yet a cultural treasure, this is the current home of Paraguay’s legislative body … and was financed by the government of Taiwan.

The Cabildo at night - when the museum is closed, but the culture is on display.

The Cabildo at night – when the museum is closed, but the culture is on display. Photo by Leandro, Licensed under CC License.

Our final Cultural Treasure for today, as we turn back toward our hotel, is the Catedral Metropolitana. Designed by a Uruguayan, and built between 1842 and 1849, stepping inside the Metropolitan Cathedral of Asuncion delivers the impact of Spanish Catholic colonialism with its independent evolution in South America over the past century and a half. When Pope John Paul II visited here in 1988 he would have sensed the sparseness in comparison to the Vatican’s cathedrals; he also would have witnessed as we do the devoutness of the parish – even on a Monday lunchtime the tourists only just outnumber the faithful, a reminder of how the strength of faith still impacts this country even as it diminishes in power across much of the western world.

The Catedral Metropolitana de Asunción, a reflection of modern South American faith.

The Catedral Metropolitana de Asunción, a reflection of modern South American faith. Photo by Gabriela Sanabria, Licensed under CC License.

Stepping back out into the midday heat, we are reminded of the siesta tradition that carries on here. Remarkably, this whole walk – five of the cultural treasures of Paraguay – is barely a one mile round trip from our hotel.

So for the afternoon, we part ways. Whether you call it a siesta – or a disco nap – enjoy.

And when you wake up, no doubt you will find some of our everydaydream group milling around the gorgeous hotel swimming pool.

A relaxing afternoon is followed by an easy walk back to the Teatro Municipal, for a 9pm “Concert of Dreams“. Immersing ourselves in the local musical culture is an opportunity, and there’s a certain passion to the music that can be lacking in the precision of big city orchestras. The atmosphere here is aided by the family feel, even at 9pm on a school night!

While the cultural treasures we have seen are all listed as buildings, the message from today is how much the city of Asuncion, Paraguay continues to live the culture they represent. These aren’t monuments to the past, they are spaces – palaces, museums, theatres, and churches – for today’s residents to connect the culture of their ancestors with the lifestyle of their children’s children.

Want to go? Need to know!

Here’s the full list of the Seven Treasures of Cultural Heritage material of Asunción, Paraguay

  • Palacio de los López (Presidential Palace)
  • Hotel Guaraní (Paraguay’s first 5-Star hotel)
  • Panteón Nacional de los Héroes (Memorial to the National Heroes)
  • Teatro Municipal Ignacio A. Pane (city Theatre)
  • Cabildo (former Parliament, now Museum)
  • Catedral Metropolitana de Asunción (city Cathedral)
  • Iglesia de la Santísima Trinidad (Jesuit Church complex in nearby Trinidad) – click here to read about our visit there

We enjoyed taking in a walking tour of Asuncion, and couldn’t argue with any of these cultural treasures. Have you been? Did you see other buildings that would make stronger cultural heritage material than the seven winners? Tell us in the comments below.