With its broad expanses, well-tended lawn, minarets, and palm trees, the Centro Cultural Islámico brings a little bit of the Middle East to Buenos Aires. Overlooking the polo grounds, this enormous structure, with its severely modern architecture that becomes simply radiant in strong sunlight, is the largest Islamic center and mosque in all of Latin America. At night, the two minarets are lit and cast a striking
contrast with the surrounding apartment complexes behind it. The project began under the influence of former President Carlos Ménem, who (though Catholic at the time of his presidency) is of Syrian Muslim descent. Construction began in 1998, and it was opened in 2000. The center is open for free tours in Spanish and sometimes in English, Tuesday and Thursday at noon. Lasting 45 minutes, you will see the gardens, interior courtyard, library, and other spaces. Institutions can make special requests for tours at other times. The Centro offers classes in the Koran and Arabic language, and has a library open to the public daily from 10am to 5pm. Though the Centro is closed to the public on Muslim holidays, Muslim visitors to Buenos Aires are welcome to visit for activities. Estimates of the Islamic and Arabic community in Argentina run at about 750,000. Many Argentines call anyone of Arabic or Muslim descent "Turcos," or Turks, regardless of their country of origin, based on the fact that the majority came here from places such as Syria, Armenia, and Lebanon, areas once controlled by the Ottoman Empire, the capital of which is now in modern-day Turkey.