Continuing my quest to visit Medellín’s lesser known museums, I headed out to visit Museo Casa Gardeliana, a small museum dedicated to tango music and Carlos Gardel, located in Medellín’s Manrique neighborhood.
Carlos Gardel (1890-1935) was a French-Argentine singer, songwriter, composer and actor, and one of the biggest international superstars in the history of tango.
Even if you, like me, know nothing about tango and have never heard of Carlos Gardel, you’ve probably at least heard his popular song Por una Cabeza, which has been featured in numerous Hollywood flicks including The Scent of a Woman, Schindler’s List, True Lies and many others.
Gardel’s legacy and stardom had even lead to nationalistic disputes about his birthplace–with both Uruguay and Argentina contending that he was actually from their respective countries.
Gardel laid a false trail regarding his birthplace for a great deal of time, however it is most commonly accepted that he was born in France, and grew up in Buenos Aires.
His French birth would have required him to register with the French military during World War I and is likely the reason he pursued Uruguayan citizenship as they maintained a policy of neutrality during the war.
In the 1920s and 30s, tango began growing in popularity throughout Europe, and Carlos Gardel was the face of this movement, particularly due to his involvement and depictions of the dance in film.
Gardel is particularly credited with bringing tango music from its “lower-class” origins to something more mainstream and acceptable among the middle-class.
At the height of his career, Gardel was killed in a plane crash in Medellín at Olaya Herrera Airport along with a number of fellow musicians, including long time collaborator and lyricist, Alfredo Le Pera, and a number of his business associates.
His death was a tragedy throughout Latin American and for the millions of fans of tango music.
His body was taken through New York City, Rio de Janeiro, and Montevideo so mourners could pay their respects before ultimately being laid to rest in a cemetery in Buenos Aires.
Medellín may not immediately come to mind when you hear the words tango, but with his death this city developed an immediate connection to tango, which it maintains to this day through the Casa Gardeliana museum as well as the International Tango Festival which takes place every year in June.
The Casa Gardeliana museum itself consists of a colorful little house nestled within the bustling Manrique neighborhood.
Manrique is located up on the hill in the area above the Jardín Botánico and the Universidad de Antioquia.
I was advised not to venture up there by myself, so my girlfriend accompanied me on my visit.
The house is a large room chock full of paintings, posters, memorabilia, and artistic representations of Carlos Gardel.
There are various informational postings within the house with details about Gardel, tango music and his influence throughout the world. As is common in these smaller museums, the information is only presented in Spanish.
Museo Casa Gardeliana also offers workshops, expositions and other periodic events around the subject of tango.
I found my quick trip to visit Casa Gardeliana to be interesting and worthwhile.
I learned more about tango music and was offered a unique glimpse into Medellín’s connection to a style of music that I’d previously only associated with Argentina.
Not only that, but I got to explore a new neighborhood that I never really hear much about, nor had a reason to visit.
Manrique is a vibrant neighborhood that is worth checking out–I got the impression that they don’t see a ton of gringos up there.
Following our visit to the museum, we wandered around the area, window shopping and enjoying the views of the city from this hillside neighborhood.
Eventually we stumbled upon a cart selling arepas stuffed with cheese and covered in condensed milk, which was my first time trying this rich but delicious treat.
If you’d like to visit Casa Gardeliana or the Manrique neighborhood, you can take the metro to the Universidad or Hospital station and then catch a taxi to take you up the hill for around 5,000 pesos ($3).
You can read more about Carlos Gardel and the history of tango on Wikipedia.
Great blog post. Will visit on our next return trip.
Hi Ryan S, like this report and pics of the Casa Gardeliana very much. There are 2 things I’d like to add to it, though. No. 1) apparently Gardel hid his French ancestry not so much to avoid military service in France, but because his mother had been a French washerwoman (in Paris if I remember correctly). When she immigrated to Argentina she did so to escape extreme poverty and the class prejudices common at the time in Europe. Can’t remember if she was already pregnant with Carlos. He later made up a tale about his birth in Uruguay when he became famous throughout the world to hide all this, as class prejudices continued to exist in Latin America, Europe and the U.S. No. 2) I’ve just heard in a radio program in Medellin that the tango (believe it or not!), was a dance of the upper classes in that city, as only they could afford the expensive gramophone record players fashionable at the time. Makes one think, doen’t it? Thanks for your interesting article.