Museo del Agua y de la Historia Sanitaria [Museum of Water and Sanitation History]

Let me tell you, I have been a huge fan of sanitation infrastructure since reading The Ghost Map.  No part of that sentence is exaggeration.  It’s difficult to appreciate modern sanitary standards until you read about a virulent cholera outbreak, and the sheer amount of sewage in the drinking water.  Yum.

This is my local basketball team.

Definitely read that book, by the way.

Anyway, you will find the Museo del Agua y de la Historia Sanitaria (Museum of Water and Sanitation History) in a very eye-catching building in Buenos Aires.


There’s a lot to look at here.

This is the Palacio de Aguas Corrientes, or Palace of Running Waters, which is incidentally the name of my future chalet. It was completed in 1894, designed to be a water pumping station.  That’s right; this glorious eclectic construction of English terra cotta tiles, a French mansard roof, and polished landscaping was built to be a water tank cozy.

Makes an impressive entry for a sanitation museum.

Today, the Water Palace houses administrative offices for AySA, the state water company, in addition to the museum (and archive and library).

The museum devotes a good deal of its space to the building’s construction and history.


After the section dedicated to the building, there are…


I’m 100% sure there is a fancy word for these that I cannot remember.
This pipe is made of wood!


Not gonna lie; I do love a faucet key.

And a model of the Radio Antiguo area’s English-style drainage system, which collected storm water in addition to sewage.  Not every sewage system does that, you know.

Miss me with your wastewater-only pipelines, Boca and Barracas.

Historical artifacts of the water company (once called the Obras Sanitarias de la Nacion or OSN, no I was not kidding about the basketball team) are also in the museum.  There’s an office from the 1920s-1940s era:


A magazine published for the nation’s sanitation workers:

I used to get a magazine from my national professional association, and I think this one is cooler.

Various and sundry piping-related materials, catalogs, and certificates:


Is…is this an anatomically accurate depiction of a water drop?

But I know what you’re thinking.

“Does this sanitation museum include toilets?  Because honestly why even bother otherwise.”

Well of COURSE it has toilets.

Antique toilets.
Old timey toilet tank!
An old sink and Turkish squat toilet.
A portable bidet and good reminder to thank your lucky stars that all your butt-related fixtures are connected to pipes.
Prison toilets.
The sign says these toilet bowls “were a more modest alternative to the pedestal.”  Which, yes.                The lower one is a squat toilet from 1900.
They even let you see the toilets and items that are not currently on official display.


This room is scented by an air freshener that took me a moment to place, but is in fact the most common air freshener used in public toilets in Buenos Aires.  I thought that was a nice touch of ambiance.

Visitors can also see the interior of the building–the former water tanks.  The space has some of the larger artifacts and photographs relating to the history of water and sanitation service in the city.


This building is undoubtedly haunted.  You can tell that even before you hear the stories of suicide and murder in it.


This is a 1948 mercury vapor valve, and according to the label it is a “device for rectification of alternating current into direct current.”  It was used until 2000.


There’s a water station!  If you take the tour, you can have some.

If you aren’t on the tour, there are screens with virtual guides giving short talks throughout the museum.


Are there interactive exhibits?  Heck yes there are, in a manner of speaking.


Stick your faces right in!

Bonus:  Currently, there is also an art exhibit on the Antarctic.


The architecture alone is worth stopping by, and if you’re already there, the museum is certainly fun and doesn’t require much time.  There is also a shop!  A case just outside the museum shows its wares, which include the most affordable post cards in Buenos Aires, outside of free ones.  Museo del Agua y de la Historia Sanitaria is a couple blocks from the D line of the subway and open Monday through Friday, from 9am to 1pm and 2pm to 5pm.  Guided visits in Spanish are at 11am on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

Museo de la Deuda Externa [Museum of External Debt]

Currently, there has been a lot of protesting around public education, the lack of funding, and the teachers’ and professors’ terribly low pay, so I will be making an effort to visit the museum network of UBA. The Museum of External Debt is the second one I’ve posted on.


One of the consequences of growing up middle class in the USA is a general sort of insulation from macroeconomics.  At least for me, there just wasn’t an awareness of what went on at the national level.  Part of that was childhood, sure, but I don’t think you really find economic turmoil that really disrupts the political institutions of the US after the Industrial Age–and really, not *that* disruptive.

You don’t have to go back very far to find that kind of chaos in Argentina.  You can see damaged door handle of a bank in the post on the Banco Cuidad museum.  There were riots, police brutality, dozens killed, and an iconic image of the president fleeing the Casa Rosada in a helicopter.

Against that backdrop of economic chaos in 2001, students and professors in the Universidad de Buenos Aires’s economics department began to discuss a museum on Argentina’s external debt.  In 2005 the museum display opened at its first location.  It is currently located within the economics building of UBA, and it has a travelling version and also a healthy online presence.


It’s tucked into the first floor, and you can it through the windows on the other side of the building.


The physical space of the museum is just the one exhibition room.  And it is basically a room-sized pamphlet.  It is all text and photos.  None of that text is in English.  But, an English audio tour is available if you ask at the desk.  There’s a pretty slick booklet about the museum available, with text in four languages: Spanish, French, Italian, and German.  Haha.

These are postcards that were designed at UBA’s architecture, design and urbanism department, for the museum, and they are pretty eye-catching.

If your Spanish kinda sucks, you are definitely going to want the English audio tour.  It doesn’t read the displays word for word, but it gives you a solid idea of what’s there, and it’s simple to follow along.

There’s plenty to parse on the disastrous war of the triple alliance against Paraguay, but there are two things widely agreed on:  1) Argentina owed Great Britain money, and 2) Great Britain made out pretty well as a result of the war. 


In the interest of national sovereignty, paying off external debt was a priority during Perón’s first term.

The history of Argentina’s foreign debt is sketched out, along with the problems the debt (and whatever attending corruption came with it) contributed to for the population of Argentina.  Things get super ugly, as things do, during the military dictatorship of the 70s/80s.

The debt gets very huge and the economy tanks, but the population can do very little about macroeconomics when the leadership is actively murdering opposition.

Argentina has really been in a state of economic crisis or at least crisis-adjacent ever since.  Being unable to untangle itself from a considerable foreign-held debt has had some pretty crippling effects, and addressing the problems has been insanely complicated.

Economic collapse and a president evacuated from the Casa Rosada by helicopter.  NOT IDEAL.
The next four guys came and went within EIGHT DAYS.

The museum ends with the economic policies of Néstor Kirchner and the restructuring of the debt.  Wish I could say it stops in 2007 because everything got super rad after that, but alas. As of this posting, Twitter is flush with memes by Argentines laugh-crying their way through the latest plunge of the peso.

Comics and Debt

The museum has created a heck of a lot of sophisticated supplementary materials, including four entire comic books and a board game (you can read the comics online for free here).  There is a documentary.  There is a cartoon miniseries.  There is a stunning array of media available on the topic.

The museum is open from 9am to 9pm, Monday-Friday, and it’s free.  It’s across the street from the Facultad de Medicina stop on the D line of the subway.  If you aren’t near enough to visit, the website is quite robust, so you can absorb it from afar.  As a bonus, unrelated factoid, if you look at the top of the economics building, you’ll see a medical scene, as the building was originally the medical school.

“Today, we will be conducting the autopsy of the economy of Argentina…”