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San Telmo is the oldest neighbourhood in Buenos Aires, filled with crumbling and graffiti-strewn old mansions left over as relics from the area’s glory days.
As we learnt on our Biking Buenos Aires tour, in the 1800’s San Telmo suffered four violent yellow fever epidemics, and gradually the area was abandoned. Because people thought that the disease lingered in fabrics and furnishings, they left their houses as they were, still full of furniture, clothes and ornaments.
Later, people began to break into the abandoned mansions and collect the antiques, furs, and other valuables to sell on the street, and so San Telmo’s weekly antique market was born.
The heart of the antique wares are congregated around Plaza Dorrego but the entire outdoor market stretches down 13 blocks of the cobblestone Defensa Street and off onto a few side lanes.
From 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. Defensa Street is completely pedestrian and packed with entertainers jockeying for attention and an international array of street vendors who display their goods on the pavement.
The offerings include antiquities from Argentina’s glory days, original art, funky clothing, homemade snacks, and pretty much whatever else someone can think to slap with a price tag.
This is one of the best places in Buenos Aires to buy a beautiful yerba mate kit and other Argentine specialties.