Sunday, 14 February 2010

Paraguay - Asuncion and the Anatomy of a City

Five times found to be the cheapest city in the world to live in (by Mercer), Asuncion, or to give its proper title, Nuestra Senora Santa Maria de la Asuncion, is one of the oldest cities in South America.

Founded in 1537 it was, like a lot of South American cities, named after the religious feast on the day of its foundation (August 15, the Feast of Assumption). Its also known as the 'Mother of Cities', as it was used as a base for the foundation of other cities, most famously, the resettlement of Buenos Aires, after colonisers were driven away from the original settlement there.

Not having visited Paraguay, it's difficult to get a sense of what it's really like but, using Wikipedia, Google Maps and other Internet sites, I have tried to build up a picture, in my imagination, of Asuncion and its many districts.

Asuncion is stretched along the Paraguay river, with Argentina (and Asuncion's slightly dodgy Argentine sister, Clorinda) lying across the river, to the south and west. Apart from the city of Asuncion proper, the almost three million people who live there are spread out in a series of satellite towns, namely to the south and east, but also, to a lesser extent, in the north.

I get the impression that it's a hilly city, especially around Lambare. The satellite towns include Villa Elisa with its German and Scandinavian roots, the industrial cities of San Antonio in the south and Mariano Roque Alonso in the north. There is Limpio, one of the oldest settlements, 25km to the north of the city. There is the airport district of Luque, also the headquarters of CONMEBOL, the South American equivalent of UEFA.

Asuncion city seems to have what most cities have, the University district of San Lorenzo, the pleasant riverside middle-class district of Sajonia, backing on to the working class districts of Obrero (literally workers) and Tacumbu, where the city's main prison is located.

Seemingly forgotten about, in the shadow of Catedral, on the swampier side of the Artigas (the main road heading north) is the district of Dr Ricardo Brugada, also known as La Chacarita, probably the poorest district in Paraguay. In stark contrast, on the other side of the Artigas are the flowery streets of Manora and the well-heeled districts of Villa Morra and Recoleta, an alternative focal point to the more run-down old city. And there is Hipodromo, not surprisingly, a focal point for the city's sports facilities.

The writer in me is already constructing a novel full of characters, living out their lives in the very different parts of the city. I guess what I've described could be any city - Barcelona, Moscow, Paris, Bangkok - you just need to change the names of the districts - it's the basic anatomy of a city!

Image credits:

There's something I really like about the photo of Asuncion, which is by Alexander Steffler, who is from Texas and took this photo from an apartment he was living in, in 2004.  You can see more of Alexander's photos at his flickrpage http://www.flickr.com/photos/alex-s  I'm pretty sure I've seen another one of Alexander's photos, Asuncion by night, perhaps on Wikipedia. 
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