Perhaps somewhat strangely, one of the biggest tourist draws in Buenos Aires is that of the famous cemetery in the swanky neighborhood of Recoleta (which also happens to be my neighborhood in BsAs…Recoleta, not the cemetery!). I’ve always been a little fascinated with cemeteries and tombstones…especially the very old ones where you can’t even read the dates anymore. My mom always told me that was
morbid but I think even she would agree that this particular cemetery is truly spectactular. La Recoleta Cemetery is a famous cemetery located in the exclusive Recoleta neighbourhood of Buenos Aires, Argentina. The layout of the cemetery was designed by the French engineer Próspero Catelin in 1822, and was remodeled in 1881, while Torcuato de Alvear was mayor of the city, by the Italian architect Juan Antonio Buschiazzo.
One of the cats from the colony…
The Cemetery includes graves of some of the most influential and important persons of Argentina, including several presidents, scientists, and wealthy characters. Internationally, Eva Perón is the best known person buried in this cemetery. The entrance to the cemetery is through neo-classical gates with tall Greek columns. The cemetery contains many elaborate marble mausoleums, decorated with statues, in a wide variety of architectural styles. The entire cemetery is laid out in sections like city blocks, with wide tree-lined main walkways branching into sidewalks filled with mausoleums.
While many of the mausoleums are in fine shape and well-maintained, others have fallen into disrepair. Several can be found with broken glass, littered with rubbish, and on occasion you might find a mausoleum being used as a janitorial supply closet, with cleaning and maintenance products stored on top of coffins. Each mausoleum bears the family name etched into the facade; brass or bronze plaques are added to the front for particular family members. La Recoleta is one of those cemeteries where the tradition of engraving a death date but no birth date has been maintained. Similar to the Botanical Garden, one interesting and unique aspect of La Recoleta is a colony of feral cats that resides within the gates. Although they can be spotted anytime, they tend to gather in groups of dozens near closing-time, when some locals feed them.
As we have just learned, the most internationally famous person buried here is Eva Peron…made famous to most by Madonna’s “Evita” movie and corresponding hit song. For those who do not remember, Eva Peron was the controversial second wife of Argentina’s president Juan Peron in the 1940s and 50s…who, among other things, sought to run for Vice President of Argentina while her husband was in office. Sadly, she died in August of 1952 at the young age of 33 of advanced uterine and cervical cancer…despite a radical hysterectomy and being the first Argentinian to ever undergo chemotherapy.
Eva Peron buried in her family’s mausoleum
Among other interesting…though surely less famous figures to occupy Recoleta Cemetery is that of poor Rufina Cambaceres, a young woman who was buried alive in the early 1900s. She had perhaps suffered a coma, and a few days after her interment, workers heard screams from the tomb. Once opened, there were scratches on her face and on the coffin from trying to escape. Her mother then built this Art Nouveau masterpiece, which has become a symbol of the cemetery. Her coffin is a Carrara marble slab, carved with a rose on top, and it sits behind a glass wall, as if her mother wanted to make up for her mistake in burying her and make sure to see her coffin if she were ever to come back again. Adorned by a young girl carved of marble who turns her head to those watching her, she looks as if she is about to break into tears, and her right hand is on the door of her own tomb.
Tomb of the Paz family…the angels were sculpted in Paris and sent over by ship
Recoleta Cemetery reminds me a lot of the cemeteries of New Orleans complete with above-ground tombs and mausoleums. Of course, the mausoleaums in New Orleans are much less well-kept and were built above ground due to the fact that NO is actually below sea level and thus it would difficult to bury people underground. In Recoleta, entire huge families are often buried in one mausoleum and peeking into the broken glass of some tombs reveals very deep tunnels underground with coffin upon coffin stacked on top of each other. Even creepier…many of the coffins sit exposed to the elements in tombs where the glass has been broken out…like these shown in the pictures below.
Despite the occasional “creepiness” factor, Recoleta Cemetery is a highly recommended stop on the tourist trail in Buenos Aires so make sure to check it out if you’re ever in town. Not much more today…we have a rare sunny day in BsAs today so I’m off to the park. My best to all…type to you soon!