Facts about Argentina and Buenos Aires

The name Argentina derives from the Latin argentum (silver). The first Spanish conquistadors discovered the Río de la Plata (“River of Silver”). Indigenous people gave silver gifts to the survivors of the shipwrecked expedition, who were led by Juan Díaz de Solís. The legend of Sierra del Plata — a mountain rich in silver — reached Spain around 1524.

Spain established a permanent colony on the site of Buenos Aires in 1580, and the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata in 1776. In 1806 and 1807 the British Empire invaded the Viceroyalty, but the creole population managed to repel the invasions. On May 25, 1810, after the confirmation of the rumors about the overthrow of King Ferdinand VII by Napoleon, the most prominent citizens of Buenos Aires took advantage of the situation and created the First Government Junta. Independence from Spain was declared on July 9, 1816. Centralist and federationist groups were in conflict until national unity was established and the constitution promulgated in 1853.

Foreign investment and immigration from Europe led to the adoption of modern agricultural techniques and integration of Argentina into the world economy in the late 19th century. From 1880 to 1930, Argentina enjoyed increasing prosperity and prominence.

Railroad construction near the end of the 19th century increased the economic power of Buenos Aires as raw materials flowed into its factories, and the town became a metropolitan and multicultural city that ranked itself with the major European capitals. For example, the Teatro Colón was one of the world's top opera venues. The city's main avenues were built in those years, and the dawn of the 20th century saw the construction of South America's then-tallest buildings and first subway network.

Argentina is the eighth largest country in the world (by land mass). It has the tallest mountain in North and South America (Aconcagua at 22831 feet). It is generally recognized as being the most developed country in Latin America. It boasts the highest GDP per capita, the highest levels of education measured by university attendance, and a reasonable infrastructure that in many aspects is equal in quality to that found in fully industrialized nations.

Unlike most of its neighboring countries, Argentina's population descends overwhelmingly from Europeans. Most of the population is made up of descendants of Spanish, Italian and other European settlers. According to the CIA World Factbook, 97 percent of Argentinians are ethnically white.

After the initial Spanish colonists, waves of immigrants from European countries (especially Italy)arrived in Argentina throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Contributors include France (mostly to Buenos Aires), Scandinavia, the United Kingdom and Ireland. The majority of Argentina's Jewish community (the largest in Latin America and the fifth-largest in the world) also derives from immigrants of Northern and Eastern European origin.

Argentine culture has been primarily informed and influenced by its European roots. Buenos Aires is undeniably the most European city in South America and considered by many its cultural capital, due both to the prevalence of people of Italian, Spanish and German descent, and to conscious imitation.

Although Spanish is the official language of Argentina, a phonetic study conducted by the Laboratory for Sensory Investigations of CONICET and the University of Toronto showed that the accent of the Spanish-speaking inhabitants of Buenos Aires (known locally as Porteños) is closer to the Neapolitan Italian dialect than any other spoken language, which can be traced to the influx of Italian immigrants to the port city. This immigration had a profound influence on Lunfardo, the slang spoken in Buenos Aires and the Río de la Plata, which has since permeated popular vocabulary in the region. Most young people speak at least some English as it is required in school.

Buenos Aires is the capital of Argentina and its largest city and port. The metropolitan area (75 square miles) has between 13-14 million people and is often ranked as the 9th largest in the world. Approximately 40 per cent of Argentina's 33 million citizens live in Greater Buenos Aires. It is on the southern shore of the Río de la Plata, on the southeastern coast of the South American continent.

Strongly influenced by European culture, Buenos Aires is sometimes referred to as the “Paris of the South” or “Paris of South America.” It is one of the most sophisticated cities in Latin America, renowned for its architecture, night life, and cultural activities.

Buenos Aires locals refer to themselves as Porteños because many of them originally arrived by boat from Europe and settled in the port area. Known as thinkers, Porteños delve into philosophical discussions and psychoanalysis (as proven by the large number of psychoanalysts per capita—in fact, the most of any city in the world).

In 2003, Buenos Aires became the first city in Latin America to declare civil union rights for gay and lesbian couples. Gay (and straight) couples who have been together for at least two years can get the same health insurance, hospital visitation rights, and pension benefits that married couples get. Buenos Aires is generally perceived to be the most gay-friendly city in South America.