Plaza 24 de Septiembre is Santa Cruz, Bolivia's central square around which the entire city has been built. Nearly 500 years old, it was renovated in 2005. On the Southern end is the Basilica de San Lorenzo, the equally ancient Catholic cathedral. During the day you can climb the Clock Tower
to overlook the city. The Sacred Art Museum
is a small, but fascinating museum found inside the San Lorenzo cathedral. You can see centuries-old religious art and church relics, including the opulent robes worn by bishops and priests, silver and gold items, gem-encrusted ritual pieces, and more.
Like the hub of a bicycle wheel, Plaza 24 de Septiembre (named for the date on which the city of Santa Cruz was first established and celebrates its anniversary) is the heart of the city. From here all other streets radiate outward like spokes, and circular avenues called “anillos” (rings) cut across them, expanding outward for miles.
The city's social, business and political gathering place, thousands of people visit or walk through the plaza each day. Here you’ll also find the Mayor’s Office, City Council, and other government buildings, as well as a great many stores and souvenir shops, banks, and other centuries-old buildings.
Some take time out to people watch or rest in the shade, have a lazy conversation with friends, eat ice cream, or play chess on the many concrete chess tables available. Others busily cross the plaza on their way to work, meetings, errands, and other places. The occasional political rally will fill the plaza to capacity and overflow into the adjoining streets.
On any given night you’ll find a very different atmosphere. Cruceños love to spend their time outdoors at night and the city is very much alive and kicking until late into the evening. (The photos above were taken on a Thursday evening at about 8 p.m. and there wasn't an empty bench to be found).
While some take in a movie at the renovated “Cine Palace” movie theater, others attend mass at the basilica. Couples quietly converse under the dark of the trees while on one corner a loud 4-man band plays tropical music and on another a much louder 30-man band plays 40's jazz classics and tangos. Street lamps brighten the plaza and children laugh as they run around the trees. Families and friends gather and tourists take in the sights.
Plaza 24 de Septiembre is a reflection of life in Santa Cruz, at times bustling and noisy, and at times shady and serene. At the plaza there is a time for business and a time for socializing - and most of the time, a mixture of both. Don’t be surprised if you overhear a heated debate on the bench next to you while across from you others sleep in the shade.