Located in the Recoleta neighborhood of Buenos Aires, Argentina, El Ateneo Grand Splendid is much more than a bookstore. This jewel of architecture invites you to lose yourself among its books and its history, which began in the last century.
It is currently the largest bookstore in South America, and is also considered one of the most beautiful in the world. In fact, Magazine National Geographic in 2019 it was categorized as the most beautiful bookstore in the world. Also, the British newspaper Guardian chose it as the second most important bookstore in the world. You want to know why?
The Grand Splendid Movie Theater
One of the most fascinating things about this bookstore is knowing that it wasn’t exactly born as a bookstore. The Grand Splendid was opened as a movie theater in 1919 by Austro-Hungarian businessman Max Glücksmann. Since then, he has begun the magnificent story that would lead him to become a Buenos Aires icon.
Concerts of balletopera and the first sound films broadcast in Buenos Aires. In addition, the National Odeón label —today the EMI label—, worked in this place. Carlos Gardel, the great River Plate tango figure, began recording under that label in 1920. The recording room still exists, although it cannot be visited.
The Grand Splendid also had a radio – Radio Splendid – which began broadcasting in May 1923. It operated for seven years and, On October 1, 1929, Gardel sang for the first time on the radio from that first floor where it worked. Other important tango figures who passed through the Grand Splendid were Roberto Firpo and Ignacio Corsini.
Building, thanks to the European immigrant waves that arrived at that time, it received a notable influence of that continent. Thus, it fed a rich cultural and artistic scene, present at the birth of tango as well. That resulted in an interesting European and Latin cultural mishmash.
The emergence of the Ateneo Grand Splendid bookstore
Many of the theaters in Buenos Aires that had their heyday in the 1940s have disappeared over time. The Grand Splendid was no exception, as entered a remarkable decline that led to its closure. Specifically, it closed in the 1980s, although it operated as a movie theater until 1999.
For a few months, there was discussion about what would happen to the theater. Finally, the ILHSA Group decided to enhance the value of the building and transform it into an incredible bookstore. The armchairs were removed and bookcases were placed, maintaining its splendor and elegance with the architecture, the dome frescoes, the original railings and the decorations intact.
The work was carried out by the architect Fernando Manzone and required an investment of three million dollars, something that was not so simple due to the economic crisis that was taking place in the country. However, Adolfo de Vicenzi, director of the ILHSA Group, decided to carry out the project. After six months of remodeling, in the year 2000 the Ateneo Grand Splendid was born.
The Grand Splendid Athenaeum contains much more than books
Currently, this bookstore holds approximately 200,000 books, 10,000 movies, and 25,000 records. Every space was well used, so visiting the Ateneo Grand Splendid is much more than going to buy a book.
In the old stage there is a bar that invites people to enjoy reading while having something delicious —where the velvety red curtain is still ajar—, like a coffee or a submarine. You can also spend time in the armchairs on both sides of the main room or in the boxes that function as small reading rooms.
In the basement there is a children’s book section, while on the upper floor you can enjoy samples and exhibitions. Even in the latter, as well as in the bar, you can enjoy classical or instrumental music many times.
Currently, the bookstore receives about 3,000 visitors a day, not only to buy or read, but also to admire its imposing beauty. From school groups to national and international tourists pass through the Ateneo Grand Splendid. We assure you that if you are a book lover, you will also fall in love with this place.
Visit the great Buenos Aires bookstore
Buenos Aires is one of the cities with the most bookstores in the world, so touring the streets of Buenos Aires is a party for those who enjoy reading. Some consider the Ateneo Grand Splendid to be very commercial; however, it is an experience that you must live if you go to the Argentine capital.
Visit the Ateneo Grand Splendid in Recoleta, a true icon of Buenos Aires. Its history, its architecture, its library atmosphere and the rich culture that surrounds it will make you feel that you are more than just a simple bookstore.