Quilmes: a Prominent Name in Argentinean History

Sooner or later, when visiting Argentina, you will come across the name “Quilmes”. Presumably sooner, when you order your first beer, as Quilmes is the most popular brew in Argentina. Although closely linked, it is not the beer I want to write about.

The mountain backdrop provided the settlement of Quilmes better defenses.

The mountain backdrop provided the settlement of Quilmes better defenses.

There is one Quilmes in Argentina which played a pivotal role in the country’s history and gives pride to its remaining indigenous population. This particular Quilmes, which is located near Santa Maria in the mountains in the north-west of the Tucumán province, is the centre of the territory occupied by the Diaguita natives. It used to be home to around 2,000 families or roughly 10,000 people.

The Diaguita were a fiercely proud and independent tribe. From the 15th century onwards they resisted the Inca occupation and sustained their independence. Incas this far south? Yes, less than 100 kilometres south of Quilmes you will find remains of an Inca settlement now called Shincal” ruins . The Inca kingdom at its peak reached as far south in Argentina as today’s Mendoza.

When the Spaniards finally defeated the Inca rule of the Andes, the Diaguitas still defended their independence. When you visit what remains of Quilmes today, an observant person can find some evidence of their clever defenses: sharply angled and narrow passageways with small entrances (barely wide enough for one person to crawl through) which can be quickly barred with a single large rock.

The skirmishes went on for almost 130 years until the last stronghold was finally taken by Spanish warriors, with great losses to both sides. The Spaniards decided to uproot the Diaguita and resettle them, far away from their homeland, near Buenos Aires where they would live under the close watch of their troops. To achieve this they forced the survivors to march over 1,200 kilometres across the country; many more Diaguita died during this gruesome trek.

What remained of the once proud tribe, some 270 surviving families, were settled in 1666 in the Reducción de la Santa Cruz de los Indios Quilmes, the foundation of today’s Quilmes, part of Gran Buenos Aires on the Rio Plata. In 1888 the German migrant Otto Bemberg founded a brewery here and named it Quilmes – thus the name of the once so proud independent nation in the North-West is still in everybody’s mouth today.

Quilmes beer at the supermarket

Quilmes beer at the supermarket [excuse photo quality: handheld mobile phone].


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8 Responses

  1. Not having visited Argentina, we’re not very familiar with the country. But now we know what the popular local beer is :-). And we know a little about Quilmes.

    • Yasha says:

      I’m glad to have been of help! Nothing worse than arriving in a country and not knowing what beer to drink. ;-)

  2. Great history lesson – I had no idea the Incas had lived as far as Argentina. I’d love to see the settlement of the Diaguita natives and your photos are fascinating as seen from above the ruins and the rock wall. I especially like the recreated buildings which are totally unlike anything I’ve see. I guess it’s good to be remembered and a beer is as good as a way as anything!

  3. Donna Janke says:

    Very interesting story. Sad to read about another instance of European settlers uprooting and resettling indigenous people. The Shinca ruins look fascinating.

    • Yasha says:

      Unfortunately the European history is one of little respect for the indigenous people anywhere – I guess that’s the way they thought then, but we have no excuse for not learning from these past actions.

  4. Who knew the Inca civilization came so far south, and who knew Argentina had its own “Trail of Tears.” The story of the Diaguitas and Quilmes is fascinating. Thanks for telling it.

    • Yasha says:

      Who knew, indeed! We didn’t. It’s what I really love about the way we travel – we tend to stumble upon gems like this from time to time!

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