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  HOME | Argentina

Remains Found of Cafe de Hansen -- Famed Birthplace of Argentine Tango
Demolished in 1812.

BUENOS AIRES -- A group of archaeologists found the remains of the Cafe de Hansen, one of the birthplaces of the tango, which thrived in Buenos Aires from the end of the 19th century until the beginning of the 20th and has been named both in chronicles of the times and in lyrics of Argentina's most typical music.

The culture minister of the Buenos Aires municipal government, Hernan Lombardi, told the daily Clarin on Saturday that experts had found part of the brick flooring of the mythical cafe 50 centimeters (20 inches) underground in Palermo Park on the city's north side.

"The idea is to continue excavating, but we're going to take advantage of the find to establish the area as a walkway where locals can acquaint themselves with the way Buenos Aires was in those days," he said.

Lombardi recalled that the origins of the tango go back to the end of the 19th century, when waves of European immigrants poured into the Rio de la Plata region and with their instruments began creating the popular style of dance music.

The tango was first danced in Palermo, as Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges wrote, and also became popular in the neighborhoods of San Telmo and Monserrat on the south side of Buenos Aires.

The cafe was named after its first owner, Juan Hansen, who inaugurated it in 1877 in a big house in the middle of what is currently Palermo Park. Historians point out that in those days it was patronized by the well-to-do.

In his stories, Borges described the delinquents who strutted around Buenos Aires' poor neighborhoods at the time the tango was born, while other writers refer to the rhythm in 2/4 time in which the accordeon or street barrel organ "weeps," and to the low-down criminal slang spoken by the "milongueros," or dancers, in the slums.

Beginning in 1890, tango orchestras played at the Cafe de Hansen, which became so popular that it is named in tangos like "Tiempos Viejos" (The Old Days) by composer Manuel Romero, which tells the story of "blonde Mireya," a beautiful woman frequently seen there, according to tango tradition.

"It was a dance hall full of night owls from different social strata. It was a tough atmosphere but a lot of fun," wrote the late composer Enrique Cadicamo about the place that was demolished in 1912 to make way for streets and other construction.

In the Cafe de Hansen, "they danced a tango very well danced, because at the beginning it was an elegant place," recalled Gabriel Soria, director of the National Tango Academy.

"In the decade of 1910, typical tango orchestras played there like those of Roberto Firpo and Enrique Canaro, who recalled in an interview the fights that used to break out at the cafe among kids of the upper classes," he said.

The archaeologists also found a network of tunnels in the area dating back to 1833 that were part of the infrastructure of Buenos Aires' first electrical power plant.

 

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