Culture: The Misiones Province
As the name suggests, this beautiful region is the home of the Jesuit missions of the 17th century
Made famous through films such as “The Mission”, the Misiones province is still an outstanding destination for those that are interested in the Jesuit order and the activities of both the Spanish and the Portuguese in the 17th century. Locations such as San Ignacio, Santa Ana and Loreto are still prime examples of the manner in which the Jesuit order slowly advanced into this wild and untamed region of South America and created societies that were both profitable and peaceful.
Most people who head to this area of Argentina come for one thing, the famous falls that lie in the very north of the province. This is, however to overlook one of the most interesting periods in European history (and also one of its most brutal). The general history of the Jesuit order was that they were sent out into the new world in order to try and establish a foothold with what were seen as simple barbarians. Through their use of simple and spiritual communication (such as the use of music) they managed to establish themselves very quickly amongst the local tribes of the Guaraní.
Unfortunately, as the power of the Jesuits grew, and the apparent wealth of these communities increased, the Spanish realized that it would be best served if these communities were disbanded and the villagers rounded up and used as slaves. It was a particularly brutal period in the history of the are, but, nonetheless fascinating to witness first hand by visiting some of these famous sites.
The main, and best preserved of these, is, without doubt, the ruins at San Ignacio Mini, around 2 hours south of Iguazu. The settlement was established, after around 80 years of fighting with Portuguese and Spanish slavers, in around 1896, and was one of the largest Guaraní/Jesuit posts in the area. They guestimate that the population at its peak was around 4,000 strong and, as you walk into the complex, you walk through a series of small buildings where the Guarani used to live.
Rediscovered in the mid 1940s, the ruins have been carefully restored and, with the help of informative panels, the area is brought alive. This can be included as a day trip out of Iguazu and it is well worth the effort.