Being the capital city Asuncion is the first port of call for most visitors to Paraguay.
As such it is the ideal place to begin any journey around the country. Asuncion contains within it sufficient history to give a general oversight of the land.
For many year what is now the historic center of Asuncion was the city. It was only as the city expanded during the 20th century that it spread far beyond its central core.
This is the historic center of the city which marks the original extent of the city. It is largely mid 19th century reflecting mayor redevelopments that occurred at that time. The streets in the area contain many interesting and historic elements and are a pleasant place to stroll.
Asuncion was founded on the eastern shore of the sheltered Bay of Asuncion and so nowhere is more than a few blocks from the waters edge.
It is a compact district in which all the principal sights are within walking distance of each other. Almost all lie along two of the areas principal thoroughfares. This allows almost everything to be seen by following a simple circular route.
Being small in size the best way to see the Historic Center is on foot. Half a day is sufficient but making allowances for the heat and to make time to visit the areas numerous cafes and restaurants a tour could easily be stretched over a lazy and relaxing day.
There is no better place to start the tour than in the Plaza Uruguaya. This is one of the many large tree filled set piece plazas in the area. Its shaded benches enjoyed by city workers and local families alike.
To one side of the plaza sits Asuncion Central train station. It has been more than 20 years since trains last left its platforms and it now houses an interesting museum of Paraguay’s railway heritage.
Even without entering the museum the train station can by enjoyed and the golden age of rail travel imagined. For the station itself is a fine piece of Victorian architecture which dominates its surroundings.
Your exit to the plaza is on its eastern side. This is Calle Palma which drives arrow straight through the center of the old town. Calle Palma was once the countries principal shopping street but somewhat faded from its glory days as the retail trade moved to purpose built shopping malls.
There are though still to be found all variety of retail outlets along with the cafes and restaurants that now dominate the street.
The slow decline of the area has ensured that rather than being renovated or replaced the 19th century buildings remain. Many still displaying the same frontages onto the street as they did 150 years ago. Very much a time capsule of 19th century architecture.
About half way down Calle Palma sits the first of the grand set piece buildings. This is the Panteon of the Heroes. Modeled on Les Invalides in Paris it is Paraguay’s nation shrine. Within its walls lie the Tomb of Unknown Soldier along with the remains of historic rulers and leaders.
It is a fine building and one not to be missed by anyone Paraguayan or from overseas visiting Asuncion.
From here a diversion inland away from the water needs to be taken to visit the Church of the Encarnacion. It is only a short addtional walk and one that is rewarded with a view of one of the finest churches in Asuncion.
The large church sits on a platform built onto the hillside on which it sits. As such it towers over the streets below. Even when viewed only from the street it is an impressive and imposing building.
Heading back now to Calle Palma you will find the street becoming busier with more businesses offering something for the passing tourist.
After approximately 10 minutes the street is bought to an abrupt halt as it is crossed by the busy duel carriageway of Avenida Colon. Here we turn to the right and head towards the bay.
Along Avenida Colon the final colonnaded block before it reaches the port is given over entirely to gift and hand craft stores. Everyone has a slightly different range of object on offer. This is probably one of the best places in the country to seek out souvenirs.
Ahead now lies the old port of Asuncion. It ceased to operate as a port several years ago when more modern facilities were built along the shores of the Rio Paraguay. Currently it is closed but undergoing restorations which should when they are complete see it reopening as a museum and cultural space.
From here we turn back on ourselves to follow Paraguayo Independiente which runs parallel to Calle Palma but closer to the waters edge.
Along here are some of the oldest public buildings ones designed to impress the visitor arriving by boat for whom they would have been their first sights of Asuncion.
The first of these is the Government Palace. Built in the later part of the 19th century in the style of Versailles it is one of the finest buildings in the capital. One whos image is often seen.
The double winged palace sits behind a well manicured lawn. Its paintwork it kept sparkling and a large flag flies from a tall flag pole out in front.
Although no longer the seat of government it still a working government building containing many offices. As such it is well guarded by police and troops both day and night.
Not far from here is the large Plaza de la Indepeniencia the site of the original fort of Asuncion and home to some of its most important buildings.
On one side of the plaza is the modern parliament building. This was purpose built about 15 years ago in a very modern style contrasting to the older buildings around it. It is a fine building and may in many years to come be considered as historic as its neighbours.
The first of these the Cabildo. The original town hall and until the building of the new parliament home to the national congress.
The Cabildo sits on the site of the fort of Asuncion and so this has always been one of the most important sites in the city.
After the politicians left the building was refurbished and repurposed. It now houses a good cultural and historical museum. Free entry and worth a visit from anyone wishing to acquire an incite into the culture of Paraguay both recent and indigenous.
Across on the other side of the plaza sits the Cathedral of Asuncion. A grand white washed building at the top of a steep flight of stairs. It counterbalances parliament which it faces. Religious and secular authority.
Inside is a finely worked silver altar piece. However the doors of the cathedral are generally kept sealed. The best way to see the interior is to attend mass.
From here after crossing Avenida Indepeniencia all the roads leading away from the bay head uphill to Calle Palma. From there you may head back to Plaza Uruguaya or you may wish instead to head to a pavement cafe to relax and watch the world go by.