Every city has its heroes — people who, for whatever reason, leave an indelible mark. Washington is awash in monuments to past presidents. New Yorkers work and live in a grid of ancestral icons: Rockefeller Center, Peter Cooper Village, Astor Place. And Paris is studded with plaques honoring luminaries from Joan of Arc to Victor Hugo to Edith Piaf.
Yet few cities are in thrall to a single person the way Buenos Aires is to Maria Eva Duarte de Peron.
The wife of Juan Peron, who was president of Argentina from 1946 to 1955 and again in 1973-74, Evita, as she was known to her fans, lived in the capital for less than two decades before dying of cancer in 1952, at age 33. One of the most controversial and influential women in the Western world, to her supporters she was a saintlike defender of the poor; to her detractors, an irresponsible spender out for personal glory. Either way, her presence continues to be felt all over Buenos Aires and beyond.
This year, the 60th anniversary of her death on July 26, her legend is being refreshed. A revival of the 1978 musical Evita by Andrew Lloyd Webber is playing on Broadway. In Buenos Aires, ceremonies, political speeches and a candlelight march will occur on the date of her death; special exhibitions at the Museo Evita and other institutions will be held throughout the year.
But you don’t have to march or attend speeches to understand the bond between this city and Evita. The physical contributions she left behind throughout Argentina — a beach resort for the working class, a children’s amusement park, a shelter for unwed mothers — now mingle with museums, countless statues and extravagant monuments built in her honor. The latest: two enormous steel sculptures of her likeness soldered to opposite sides of the soaring Health Ministry Building.
“There were no other women like her, especially other first ladies,” said Gabriel Miremont, the curator of the Museo Evita. “Mamie, Eleanor, even Jackie O. do not bring tourists to Washington as Evita does for Buenos Aires.”
Where that song was sung: The Casa Rosada, also known as the Pink House, is the Presidential Palace, home to the balcony that Evita often used to address throngs of Peronists — known as the shirtless ones because many were poor laborers — gathered in the Plaza de Mayo and up Avenida de Mayo. It became iconic as the setting for Don’t Cry for Me Argentina, the signature song of the musical Evita. Free weekend tours of the palace allow visitors to peer from the balcony themselves.
The Museo del Bicentenario, sometimes called the Presidential Museum, opened in 2011 behind the Casa Rosada. It contains objects related to the Perons, such as presidential regalia, clothing and campaign posters.
• Info: Calle Balcarce, between Rivadavia and Hipolito Yrigoyen, overlooking Plaza de Mayo: (54-11) 4344-3802; www.museobicentenario.gob.ar.
Fashionista must-stop: Museo Evita. Under Evita’s direction, the Argentine state bought this mansion in the tony Palermo neighborhood in 1947 and turned it into a shelter for single mothers. After Juan Peron was deposed in 1955, the building remained in government hands as an office for the disabled.
In 2002, the 50th anniversary of Evita’s death, the building reopened as a museum showcasing her lavish wardrobe, as well as items from the Eva Peron Historical Foundation, including some of her early films. The foundation behind the museum is run by her grandniece, Cristina Alvarez Rodriguez.