Peripatetic in Caracas, or How to [Re]concile Ourselves with the City

March 12, 2018

[SYNOPSIS]
How can we benefit from the positive effects of walking and exploring a city when we live in the most violent city in the world? Caraqueños are showing their spirit and capacity for overcoming urban adversities by transforming their fear in [re]conciliation through group walks. This is happening in the Venezuelan capital thanks to a program of [re]interpretation of heritage [CCSen365].


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Gonzalo Graner @ggraner | Volunteer #CCSen365 | "Por los predios de La Rinconada" tour

 

Exploring our own city from a perspective of enjoyment and wonder, both individually and in a group, has become an increasingly visible practice now that its virtues have been set forth in the exercise of the Right to the City[1], understanding this as the mode in which we establish connections with our peers and with the territory as a collective and cultural space that belongs to all citizens.

Without having studied philosophy, I can argue that the Aristotelian school bequeathed us an important practice of citizenship: how to debate ideas while walking in company. From there comes the meaning of the word peripatetic: to walk around a patio.[2]

For peripatetic Caraqueños, the right to freely explore and enjoy the city must overcome certain obstacles. The first, and strongest, is fear. How can one explore a city that’s ranked as the most violent in the world?[3]What’s more, as fear spreads it often generates idleness, neglect and  forgetting, even of places that hold the most meaning and possibility for encounter. In this way a vicious cycle, difficult to break in order to live, develops, heightening citizens’ lack of urban experiences that could allow them to [re]establish an emotional connection and a sense of belonging in their city.

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Nelson Garrido @laong | Caracas sangrante | 1996

With Collectivox, a civic association with which I have addressed various problems related to the city and its inhabitants, the team and I identified an opportunity to attend to the current fear-based relationship of Caraqueños to their city. In 2016 we began, first with [CCSen365], a mobile phone photography challenge[4]to [re]interpret heritage. With this effort, we sought to generate a sense of trust and [re]conciliation with the city through an innovative design of urban group walks in different emblematic areas of the Venezuelan capitol.

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Bernardo Porte @bportek | Volunteer #CCSen365 | "Ciudad Histórica" tour

Curated by our team at [CCSen365], these walks are designed to generate memorable urban experiences, with more than [100] participants admitted for each excursion. With the confidence that comes from the feeling of protection created by moving in a large “urban herd,” these avid city dwellers are able to [re]cognize themselves before others and [re]establish social connections, at the same time shifting any threat by [re]occupying spaces of encounter. Much of the success of these walks is owed to the talent contributed by our urban guides and volunteers and their commitment to the city.

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Rodolfo Balogh @baloghrudi | Participant #CCSen365 | "Al Sur del Guaire" tour

 

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Gonzalo Guinand @gonzoguinand | Volunteer #CCSen365 | "Desde El Ávila" tour

At the invitation of Fundación Cisneros and with the purpose of extending the experience of its seventh Seminario, I have designed [Damero Fundacional] : Política, Arquitectura y Ciudad (Foundational Checkerboard: Politics, Architecture and City), a thematic walk to [re]interpret the architectural works that transmitted the political thought of three presidential figures: Antonio Guzmán Blanco [Palacio Federal y Legislativo, 1873–1877], Marcos Pérez Jiménez [Torres del Centro Simón Bolívar, 1954] and Hugo Chávez Frías [Conjunto Monumental Panteón Nacional-Mausoleo del Libertador, 2013]. All are monuments placed within Caracas’s historic quadrangle and serve as a narrative thread to [re]weave together the memories, values and ideologies that guided these military governors and their hegemonic regimes.

With this we seek to comprehend the relationship between politics and architecture and its impact on the urban landscape of our city.


[PALACIO FEDERAL Y LEGISLATIVO, 1873–1877]
Architects / Engineers:
Luciano Urdaneta | Roberto García
Collaborating Artists: Martín Tovar y Tovar, Británico Antonio Salas Díaz [Tito Salas] and Pedro Centeno Vallenilla

“The Capitol should not be considered as simply a building, but as a monument symbolizing the triumph of the April Revolution. I have made it so that this country’s Congress may find represented in it the commencement of a new era of liberty, progress and civilization.”

Antonio Guzmán Blanco
Inaugural Speech at the Palacio Federal y Legislativo [1873]

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Rodolfo Balogh @baloghrudi | Participant #CCSen365 | "Damero Fundacional" tour

To ideologize Venzuelan national identity [materially and metaphorically] in support of the construction of a liberal State was an objective carefully pursued by Antonio Guzmán Blanco [1829-1899], known as the “illustrious American.” The absence of integrating values to give cohesion to the concept of a Republic created an area of opportunity in the 19th century, when regional isolation and social and political instability were still strongly felt[5]. For this reason, during Guzmán’s administration there was a focus on elements of cohesion, such as the teaching of geography, the mythification of national history as doctrine, the establishment of the cult of Bolívar and the heroes of independence as well as the invention and worship of certain edifications that were transformed into physical metaphors as the essence of the Republic.

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Rodolfo Balogh @baloghrudi | Participant #CCSen365 | "Damero Fundacional" tour

Over 18 years and three autocratic intervals, Guzmán Blanco managed to make his Proyecto Nacional physically manifest through the symbolic use of architecture and art to exalt his regime, pushing through a program of public works to create new monuments representative of centralized, hegemonic and unifying power. The rail network, the laying of roads and bridges, the channeling of rivers for navigation, ports and maritime projects for trade, networks of aqueducts for urban sanitation, and ornamentation in cities, were accompanied by new public buildings that all managed to make evident Guzmán’s objective of a modern State and country. This physical transformation of the environment happened alongside acts of propaganda and ideological connection, including the linking of Guzmán himself with the figure of Bolívar the Liberator.

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Left: LuisRa Bergolla | @las_itacas
Right: Bernardo Porte | @bportek

The Palacio Federal y Legislativo is the first monumental work that made an impact on the colonial profile of the city. It was a new temple for a new religion: that of civics[6]. During the 19th century the golden cupola of its exterior would be the referential icon of Caracas’s Damero Fundacional [foundational checkerboard], while beneath it an elliptical oil painting [Martín Tovar y Tovar, 1888] celestially mythologizes our national history.

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LuisRa Bergolla | @las_itacas | Creator and organizer of #CCSen365 | "Damero Fundacional" tour


[TORRES DEL CENTRO SIMÓN BLÍVAR, 1954]
Architect:
Cipriano Domínguez
Collaborating Artists: Oswaldo Guayasamín and César Rengifo

“One of the symbols of our national conscience must be the hierarchy of works, consonant with the era and the requirements of the new Venezuela, whose execution must be carried out with functional criteria that, with wide projections for the future, make them apt to contribute to the moral and material transformation of the meaning of life […]. A true demonstration of our national conscience is the materialization of the abstract concept of Country in works of a wide scope, whose importance itself is outstanding […]”

Marcos Pérez Jiménez
Closing Speech for the Semana de la Patria [1955]

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Rodrigo Ponte @ponterf | Volunteer #CCSen365 | "Damero Fundacional" tour

As opposed to the liberal government of Antonio Guzmán Blanco that entered by force with the April Revolution [1870], Marcos Pérez Jiménez’s coming to power would be by way of fraudulent elections [1951] that designated him the de facto provisional president. His political thought was designed and translated into practice by the Nuevo Ideal Nacional [7], a national project conceived as central dogma that understood the essence of nationality in terms of three fundamental factors, interwoven among themselves to constitute one single body almost in the style of the Holy Trinity: historic tradition [the Father]; natural and human resources [the Son] and strategic geographic location [the Holy Spirit].

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LuisRa Bergolla @las_itacas | "Damero Fundacional" tour

The ultimate goal of this ideal consisted of “achieving for Venezuela a place of honor among the nations and making a Country that is more dignified, prosperous and strong with each passing day,” which was understood only to be possible via two principle objectives: rational and progressive transformation of the physical environment and the moral, intellectual, and material improvement of the country’s inhabitants.

Despite Pérez Jiménez’s administration having contradicted itself totally in terms of justice and liberty, in regard to infrastructure it continues to be—even in the present—the regime that has left the country with the greatest number of public works. Many of them are of unparalleled quality, valid in form and function and still full of that monumental ambition imbued in them by the dictator.

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Rodolfo Balogh @baloghrudi | Participant #CCSen365 | "Damero Fundacional" tour
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Rodolfo Balogh @baloghrudi | Participant #CCSen365 | "Damero Fundacional" tour

Following the Caracas-La Guaira Highway [1953], the most costly construction of 1954 carried out by Pérez Jiménez was the Centro Federal Administrativo, later known as the Torres del Centro Simón Bolívar. This work well represents the avidity for modernity and progress the regime sought to project both within and beyond the borders of the country.

These first Caracan skyscrapers “constituted a unique example of urban, functionalist, monumental architecture”[8], whose image made such an impact on the city’s profile that they automatically became the emblem of modern Caracas during a good part of the 20th century, but with the steep price of having razed the legacy of ten foundational blocks for their axial implantation with Avenida Bolívar.

Within their dark covered hallways one still finds El Mito de Amalivaca [1955], a vast Nativist mural by artist César Rengifo, which portrays “tension among forces, similar to that which is present between the traditional and the modern, the native and the imported”[9] in the context of these twin towers.


[CONJUNTO MONUMENTAL PANTEÓN NACIONAL-MAUSOLEO DEL LIBERTADOR, 2013]
Architects / Engineers:
 Juan Domingo del Sacramento Infante [Capilla de la Santísima Trinidad]; José Gregorio Solano [Reconstruction of the Capilla de la Santísima Trinidad in Neogothic style]; Juan Hurtado Manrique, Julián Churión, Tomás Soriano and Roberto García [First intervention]; Alejandro Chataing [Second intervention]; Manuel Mujica Millán [Third intervention];  Arch. Farruco Sesto, Arch. Lucas Pou Ruan, Arch. Gilberto Rodríguez, Arch. Orlando Martínez Santana [Fourth intervention and Mausoleum].

Collaborating Artists: Británico Antonio Salas Díaz [Tito Salas] and Doménico Silvestri

“We are going to make, I hereby announce, a new pantheon for Bolívar. The project is already planned; we are going to begin soon and we hope to inaugurate it in 2011, the Bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence. The Bicentennial of that day when Bolívar said: let us place the fundamental stone of South American liberty without fear, to hesitate would be to lose ourselves. That was July 4, 1811, and Bolivar had already emerged as the great leader he was, he is and will always be, of the Venezuelan people and the peoples of our America, even if it pains the bourgeois enemy of Bolívar."

Hugo Chávez Frías
Official announcement in a decree from La Victoria, Aragua State [2010]

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Ivonne Velasco @ivavelasco | Volunteer #CCSen365 | "Damero Fundacional" tour

The consolidation of a new architectural monument of a funereal nature to exalt the memory of Simón Bolívar represented the final chapter—never witnessed by its author—of Hugo Chávez Frías’s ideological narrative that propelled his political project: the “Bolivarian Revolution.” Having governed for more than 13 years, Chávez Frias’s ideas, style and proposals were narrowly related to Bolivarianism, while simultaneously mixing in the concept of 20th-century socialism and even Christianity.

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Ivonne Velasco @ivavelasco | Volunteer #CCSen365 | "Damero Fundacional" tour

From his oath before the "Samán de Güere" [1982] to all his anti-imperialist and iconoclastic rhetoric to the act of exhuming the remains of the Padre de la Patria and recreating his unknown face [2012], in Comandante Chávez we find the attempt to unite his own image with that of Bolívar, an act with historical precedence dating from Guzmán’s regime in the 19th century. In this context, the physical construction of a new monumental Bolivarian icon was a consequential act within Chávez’s program of government, though it was strongly criticized by his opponents, who came to believe that his true motivation was linked more with his cancer diagnosis [around 2011] and his aspiration to be interred next to Bolívar in the new resting place.  

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Rodolfo Balogh @baloghrudi | Participant #CCSen365 | "Damero Fundacional" tour

Just as Guzmán Blanco did when he had the opportunity, Chávez Frías considered it his debt to Bolívar to exalt his figure through a new ceremonial parade. Ex-president Chávez directly supervised the new Mausoleum from its early planning stages and throughout its construction, even participating in the creative design phase. Francisco Sesto, one of the work’s architects, has affirmed that the warped incline of the southern plane of the Mausoleum, the location of the black wall against which Tenerani’s Monumento Funerario [1851] is viewed, as well as the presence of a three-dimensional flag were all suggestions made by the ex-president that were taken up by the Mausoleum’s designers[10].

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Left: Rodolfo Balogh @baloghrudi
Right: Ivonne Velasco @ivavelasco

 

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Rodolfo Balogh @baloghrudi  | Participant #CCSen365 | "Damero Fundacional" tour

The Conjunto Monumental Panteón Nacional – Mausoleo del Libertador is the only work by the Chávez government that has a large-scale presence in Caracas. It represented an operation of urban and architectural character to enrich [for better or worse] the Panteón Nacional as the antechamber of a new path of protocol that leads to the renovated sarcophagus of Simón Bolívar, in a most contemporary and protagonist way.


[1] The World Charter for the Right to the City is an article that enumerates the fundamental human rights that urban centers should recognize, protect and make happen, together with a series of municipal commitments to effect exactly this. In Article No. 1, it takes up the necessary characteristics for compliance with this right and stresses that “all persons have a right to the city without discrimination based on gender, age, race, ethnicity or political/religious affiliation. Together with this, cultural memory and identity must be preserved.”

[2] Escuela Peripatética | https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Escuela_peripat%C3%A9tica

[3] Caracas is the most violent city in the world. [Rates of violence: 13,035 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2016], according to a study carried out by the Consejo Ciudadano para la Seguridad Pública y la Justicia Penal [ www.seguridadjusticiaypaz.org.mx/ ], which took into account only urban areas of more than 300,000 or more inhabitants.

[4] First video by CCSen365 : Reto Movilgráfico | https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8xY26JpPBZA

[5 and 6] See El proyecto político guzmancista en la Venezuela decimonónica in El Palacio Federa Legislativo de Caracas. [2015].

[7] See La doctrina del régimen. Discursos del Presidente Marcos Pérez Jiménez in Venezuela bajo el Nuevo Ideal Nacional [1955].

[8] See La nueva escala en 1950, el espíritu moderno [1998].

[9] See El mito de la creación en el Centro Simón Bolívar in Tiempos superpuestos: arquitectura moderna e indigenismo en obras emblemáticas de la Caracas de 1950. [2008].

[10] See Hugo Chávez y el mausoleo. La decisión in El Mausoleo del Libertador  [2013].


[ CONSULTED BIBLIOGRAPHY ]

Colegio de Arquitectos de Venezuela [1995] : CAV Magazine, No.54. Caracas.

El Mausoleo del Libertador [2013] : Oficina Presidencial de Planes y Proyectos Especiales. Caracas.

Meza B., [2015] : El Palacio Federa Legislativo de Caracas. Asamblea Nacional de la República Bolivariana de Venezuela. Caracas

Niño W., [1998] : 1950, el espíritu moderno. Fundación Corp Group Centro Cultural. Caracas

González L.; Marín O., [2008] : Tiempos superpuestos: arquitectura moderna e indigenismo en obras emblemáticas de la Caracas de 1950.  Apuntes Magazine, Vol. 21, No. 2, Caracas.

Venezuela bajo el Nuevo Ideal Nacional [1955], Imprenta Nacional. Caracas.

Viso I.; Peña M.I.; Vegas F., [2015] : Caracas del Valle al Mar. Guía de Arquitectura y Paisaje. Junta de Andalucía y Ediciones FAU. Spain/Caracas.