Argentina: Background

Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina (Courtesy of Argentina's Bureau of Tourism).

Argentina is only about a third as large as the United States. Despite the difference in size, Argentina is like the U.S. in an important way: It is a country of astonishing variety in landscape, natural wonders, and types of places — from tall, rugged mountains and glaciers to deserts, and large, busy cities to wide-open cowboy country. Argentina lies at the southernmost tip of South America. Located in the Southern Hemisphere, its seasons are the reverse of the seasons in the United States. When it is winter in the U.S., kids have summer vacation in Argentina!

Some people call Argentina "el Sur del Sur," meaning "the South of the South." In fact, the first settlers trekked far south from North and Central America about 18,000 years ago to the territory that is now Argentina. For thousands of years, many different tribes shared the land and survived by farming, hunting, and gathering wild foods.
European explorers first came to this land in the early 16th century. Spain, which established a powerful empire of colonies, ruled Argentina for many years. By the early 1800s, many people in Argentina opposed Spanish rule. On July 9, 1816, a group of Argentineans signed a document declaring their independence from Spain. José de San Martín led an army in the fight for independence and defeated the Spaniards. Today, students love to celebrate their independence day, especially since July 9 is the beginning of a two-week vacation from school!

Most Argentineans, however, live in the nation's cities — more than 90 percent of the population. In fact, about one-third of the country's people reside in Buenos Aires, Argentina's largest city as well as its capital.

With most Argentineans living in cities, large parts of this country remain wild. Patagonia is a beautiful, vast wilderness that has many kinds of terrain. Stretching east from the Andes Mountains, it has everything, from a dry region known as the steppe and ice-capped mountains to seashore. It also has all kinds of animals, from penguins to rare flamingos. At the southern tip of Argentina lies the islands of Tierra del Fuego — "the land of fire." Argentina shares these islands with Chile.

Throughout its history, Argentina has been a good place to farm. Today, its main products are wheat and beef, produced in the fertile plains of the Pampas region.

Argentineans eat more beef than any other people of any country in the world. They especially like large barbecues with roasted meats, called asados. Argentine cattle ranchers, called gauchos — who are like the cowboys of the United States — have very important jobs. They tend millions of sheep and cattle on very large ranches. And, there are an estimated 2 million horses in Argentina, which help the gauchos with this big job!

A Brief History
1800 B.C.: The Diaguita and the Guarani tribes develop a civilization based on farming, growing maize and other crops. The Diaguita are known for successfully preventing the powerful Inca from expanding their empire into Argentina from the north.
1502: Explorer and mapmaker Amerigo Vespucci first encounters the lands that later become the Argentine territory.
1580: Juan de Garay founds Buenos Aires and colonizes most of the Argentine territory.
1816: Argentina proclaims its independence from Spanish rule.
1850-1900: Millions of Europeans immigrate to Argentina.
1929: Like millions of others during the world depression, many Argentineans lose jobs and do not have enough money to live. Fighting erupts in the streets, and right-wing groups, which want to have a strong dictatorship, become active. Military takeovers of the government occur from 1930-1946, and there is no democracy.
1946: General Juan Perón is elected president. He and his wife, Eva Duarte Perón, are both very powerful. Some of their actions help thousands of people, especially workers, but also cut back on important freedoms. The movie Evita, starring Madonna as Eva Perón, is based on Eva's life and death.
1976: The military takes control of the government and starts what is known as the "Dirty War." Thousands of Argentines disappear. Many are killed. The kidnapped people are called los desaparecidos, or "disappeared ones."

Write about it:
Background: Think about the holidays you celebrate in the winter. Can you imagine celebrating them in the summer instead?

Learn more about Argentina in these selected Web sites:
This page includes links outside of
Every Web site we link to was visited by our team at one point in time to make sure it's appropriate for children. But we do not monitor or control these sites and these sites can change. In addition, many of these sites may have links to other sites that we have not reviewed. Be sure to get permission from your parents or teacher before leaving this site, and remember to read the Privacy Policy and Terms of Use of any site you visit.

Explore the natural paradise of Patagonia with PBS. Learn the history of the region, meet scientists, play a trivia game, and download a Patagonia screensaver.

Evita Perón
Read about the life and the controversy surrounding Argentina's former first lady.

The Tango
This site is devoted to the tango, which is the most famous Argentinean dance. Read about the dance and some of the singers and dancers who made it famous.

The Disappeared Children
Learn about the children who vanished during political upheaval in Argentina. Learn about the victims, those responsible, human rights organizations, and further reading on the issue.