El Ateneo Librería

Originally opened as a theatre in 1903, El Ateneo now welcomes 3,000 visitors a day. (Photo: Roger Schultz)

Buenos Aires loves her books and her prize-winning writers like Borges, Cortazar and Sabato. Out of reverence for the gods of Argentine literature, bookstore temples have risen throughout Capital Federal, and none is more famous or photographed than El Ateneo Grand Splendid in Recoleta.

The cavernous, five-level bookstore was originally a theatre which opened in 1903 as the Teatro Nacional Norte and later became the Grand Splendid. Today, BA’s most famous libreria stocks over 80,000 titles, welcomes 3,000 visitors a day and sells close to a half million books annually. In 2008, The Guardian named it the second best bookshop in the world behind an 800-year old church in the Netherlands.

While the Dutch digs may have had a 700-year advantage, El Ateneo (like Palermo Chico) is still celebrating a century of existence. The chain was founded in September 1912 by Pedro Garcia, a Spanish immigrant whose family owned bookstores in Europe. Garci­a is credited with cultivating a passion for reading in Buenos Aires with his payment system that allowed customers to take home books and pay for them over time.

Vanguardia’s Gabriela Mayer says Argentine authors like Borges, Manuel Mujica Lainez, Victoria Ocampo and Mari­a Elena Walsh became regulars at El Ateneo. She interviews Mexican author Carlos Fuentes who remembers buying his first book at El Ateneo when he was 15. Describing the bookstore’s lasting impact on his career, Fuentes says “The El Ateneo bookstore fed me with Argentine literature.” (Full Story in Spanish)

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