Although Argentina is best known for its wild spaces or the vibrancy of Buenos Aires, national tourism authorities are boosting the promotion of a lesser-known aspect of the country: Jesuit missions are an excellent way to take travellers back to the time of the Conquistadores.
Argentina has been part of a Jesuit path for a long time under the helm of the UNESCO. The Jesuit Path was created in 2000, grouping together Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.
With conquistadores taking over entire territories in South America, Jesuits established themselves from the end of the 16th century on to convert local Indian groups. Over 150 years, 30 missions were built, with Argentina having the largest number at 15. At their height in the early 18th century, active proselytising Jesuits had an estimated 140,000 Guaraní Indians living in their missions, the ‘reducciones‘.
In Argentina, visitors can discover missions in Córdoba, Misiones, Corrientes, Entre Ríos, Tucumán, Salta, Santa Fe, and Mendoza, as well as in Buenos Aires. The Jesuit Path offers an endless number of different and complementary experiences. Religious, architectural, oenological, cultural, gastronomic, economic and natural elements are today combined to form a unique heritage.
Among the most visited missions is the Manzana de las Luces. Built at the end of the 17th century, the Church and the Colegio de San Ignacio, now the National College of Buenos Aires, is one of the most striking testimony of colonial Buenos Aires with its baroque architecture. Tours are proposed inside the structure.
Cordova Province has one of the largest numbers of reducciones in Argentina. The “Camino de las Estancias Jesuítica” constitutes a cultural tourist itinerary that allows the visitor to learn about the heritage values and the global importance of these historical places, associated with landscapes, traditions and customs that mark the identity of Córdoba.
Missiones Province has the largest number and the most spectacular Jesuit structures
To better assess the complexity of the relations between Jesuits and Indian local populations, the Guaraní Jesuit Corridor is the perfect itinerary to follow. It is made up of Yapeyú, La Cruz, San Carlos, Santo Tomé, Alvear and Virasoro. It provides a true journey back in time. Among the best sites to visit and stay is Yapeyú, the gateway to the Guaraní Jesuit Missions; the sundial of La Cruz; the Jesuit Art Museum of San Carlos and the mission of Santo Tom.
Jesuit missions played such an essential role that one province of Argentina carries their name. The Missiones Province accounts for 11 reducciones out of the 30 over the entire territory. Most spectacular are the ruins of the Jesuit Guarani San Ignacio Miní, founded in 1610. It is considered the cultural and tourist icon of the Jesuit missions in Argentina. It was destroyed by Brazilian-Portuguese troops in 1817.
Overgrown by a dense vegetation, the remains of the mission are among the most visited by travellers who wonder at the architecture of the “Guarani Baroque”
The tour continues through the Guaraní Jesuit Reductions of Nuestra Señora de Loreto, Santa Ana, Corpus Christi and Santa María La Mayor. All of them have been declared World Heritage by Unesco.
Another highlight of the itinerary is the Colegio Inmaculada Concepción, the first Jesuit school in the country. Located in Santa Fe province, its old closing courtyard and domestic chapel are linked to the current Pope Francis, who studied there for some time during his formative years as a teacher.