At the end of calle Junin, behind a restored neoclassical portal supported by four tall Doric columns, is the repository of the collective history, heritage and memories of the city of Buenos Aires. The last landscape of its founding fathers. A city of the dead.
Built in 1822 in the garden appropriated from the monks of the Order of Recoletos, who fell out of favour with the new republic because of their open support to Spain, Cementerio de la Recoleta, straddles prime real estate and is openly elitist.
It was hard, well nigh impossible, to retire here, unless a grandfather or two was already part of the clique. Or had a street named after him. Ordinary mortals, had to wait for a vault to come up for resale, when one of the older families fell on hard times. And then, it didn’t come cheap.
Distinguished citizens from various disciplines, are granted burial honours on the discretion of the state though, quite like in the Pantheon in Paris
But unlike the Pantheon, where those great souls lie interred in secular crypts beneath the main building, Recoleta is a virtual city. With eclectic blocks of extravagant mausoleums, marching down narrow shadowy ‘lanes’. Most, lovingly cared for. A forlorn few clearly conveying the absence or disregard of kin.
The architecture is an incoherent melting pot. A spatial expression of death, mirroring the opulent tastes of the living. Grandiose temples vie with tall Phaeronic obelisks and cenotaphs. All embellished with elaborate sculptures steeped in anguish.
Eighty nine of the 4700 ornate mausoleums (Lonely Planet puts it at 6000!) are classified ‘National Historic Monuments’. They are each worth seeking out. To get a feel for the power and glory of a nation. And to reflect upon man’s need to replicate his eminence and accomplishment in the afterlife.
If you aren’t just here to pay your respects to its most famous resident that is.
Then, you just need to follow the well trodden trail to the Duarte family vault. ‘Final resting place’ takes a whole new meaning in the case of Eva Duarte Peron, for her mortal remains have been more places than a roving circus troupe!
Her embalmed body was at first clandestinely shuttled around in the city, by the military establishment that overthrew General Peron. (Themed tours offer to show you the locations, accompanied by exaggerated stories no doubt) It was then squirreled away to Italy, later despatched to her spouse, in exile in Spain, and finally brought back, under duress, to rest in her simple family vault in Recoleta…four months after Peron’s death!
Did this champion of the proletariat, envisage rubbing shoulders in eternity with the power elite she detested, I wonder?
Here’s a gallery of some of the historic tombs, accompanied by a few popular legends.
The most magnificent mausoleum in Recoleta belongs to the Basualdo family whose residence is now the French embassy. It contains both a Christian cross and a Jewish menorah indicating their conversion to Christianity when they arrived in Argentina in the 16th century. The sculpture depicts the parable of the ten virgins. Google it 🙂
A young victim of Leukemia, Luz María García Velloso’s grieving mother is said to have spent several nights in the tomb with her daughters effigy. her tragic story has annointed her the resident ghost, who accompanies visitors to bars, and borrows their jackets, that are miraculously found draped across her sculpture next morning!
Ornate mausoleums lining a ‘street’!
Cayetano Jose de Urquiza was representative, and Vice-Governor of Entre Ríos province. He was the son of the first Constitutional President of Argentina, Gen Justo José de Urquiza.
Liliana Crociati de Szaszak perished in an avalanche while vacationing with her husband in Austria. her bereaved father commisioned this sculpture with her pet dog. According to one myth the dog died at the same instant she did! Untrue of course, but it does attract large crowds.
A more modern and airy memorial to former president Raul Alfonsin who passed away in 2009
The family crypt of freedom fighter general Carlos Mario de Alvear and his descedants. A mayor and an illustrious president among them!
The elaborate mausoleum in the rear is of former president Carlos Pelegrini. He was also the founder of the Jockey club and the Banco de la Nacion. The female figure waving to him, represents the nation, and the child, the future. At his feet lies another president – Pedro Aramburu, in his stark and simple crypt. He was murdered by Pro-Peronists while interrogating him about the whereabouts of Evita’s body!
A heartbreaking myth if true, is of 19 year old Rufina Cambaceres, whose casket was found broken open, by a cemetery worker. Leading to the assumption that she might not really have been dead at the time of interment, but succumbed to suffocation or a heart attack later! Another mystery that stays in the grave!
Plaque commemorating Eva Peron
This sculpture at the doorway to the Francisco Gómez family vault is said to be the most photographed in the cemetery
Lion guarding the Martín de Álzaga family vault
Sarmiento’s illustrious career as educator, ambassador (to the US) and president, merits his obelisk, clearly marked sign posts! It is topped by a condor and the base contains friezes and an inscription that translates to “One never kills ideas”
Detail on the standalone tomb of Ignacio de las Carreras, depicting the biblical story of Noah and Ham, where a drunk Noah curses Ham’s descendants!
General Julio Argentino Roca was a controversial president, and Portenos apparently still express their ire with graffiti and red paint on his Tomb.
The legend of Juan Alleno, a caretaker of the cemetery whose life goal it was to be buried with the rich and famous is fascinating. It is said he was so impatient for that dream to come true, that he killed himself on installing his sculpture, specially ordered from Italy!!
On one of the grandest and delusional mausoleums on the outer wall, General Luis Maria Campos towers over the figure representing Argentina (!) while an angel beckons him to paradise!
Pantheon of the warriors of Paraguay – A soldier and marine guard the fallen heroes of the Paraguayan campaign. A statue of victory stands above (not visible)
Man fighting sphinx in the Ramon Falcon Crypt
Pantheon of the fallen of the failed Revolution of 1890, that gave birth to the radical party
Marital discord taken to an extreme! Upset by her husband’s public denouncement of her spendthrift ways, Tiburcia del Carill willed that her bust should face the opposite direction, when she passed on – 15 years after Salavador Maria del Carill!!
A war hero who played a major role in the war for independence. The macabre story of the journey of his mortal remains is far too long for this space. Do look it up. The honour guard’s sword has been removed for safekeeping.
A seated female figure representing Justice crowns an angel on the tomb of federal judge Vergilio M Tedin
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59 thoughts on “The Elitist Cemetery Of Recoleta”
I think I’d feel a little claustrophobic surrounded by the high tombs. Some of them are unbelievably ornate!
Most were over the top Suzanne! But the sculpture was of high quality….works of top European artists of the time!
Did you feel a bit eerie here Madhu?
No, just overwhelmed!
We are off to Kolkata for the Christmas weekend Ishita. I would appreciate some tips 🙂
Wow! Enjoy… winters are so lovely in Kolkata. Restaurant wise, do try 1) Bohemian. And if you do, please tell Chef Joy that I have recommended the place (neither will that got you a discount or me, but still!)… http://ishitaunblogged.com/2013/01/06/bohemian-in-kolkata-where-food-really-does-cabaret-on-senses/
2) Oudh – A new Mughlai joint has opened up
3) Fish Fish – everybody is swearing by this one.
Am giving you the link of Kanishka’s blog for more ideas… http://umami-kaniska.blogspot.ae/
Travel wise, there has been quite a few walking tours which are doing a great job… http://www.calcuttawalks.com/
I’ll connect you to the both of you over Twitter tomorrow morning.
Enjoy and look forward to seeing your posts:)
ignore the typos pls
Thank you Ishita!!! The children are coming your way! 🙂 They are traveling with a couple of their friends and their families or I would have tagged along, just to meet you!
Imagine taking ‘marital discord’ to the grave!
And fifteen years after being widowed!! 😀
Amazing world! 🙂 And a great post, Madhu, excellent.
How unreal is this world we live in (and depart from!), Madhu? I always fancied being Eva Peron. In this company, I’m not so sure. 🙂
Me neither 🙂 I am not too sure she would have been unhappy Jo, considering the family owned a plot there!
This looks like an art gallery, thus quite a place to visit.
It really is an open air museum Frank! And prominent on the tourist trail, although most just visit Eva and Sarmiento 🙂
That is very impressive.
An indication of the might of money and power 🙂 Can you imagine spending a lifetime saving up to be able to ‘belong’ here???
I guess most Australians have to save for a lifetime to pay their instalments on an owned home unless they are very savvy, the economy doesn’t rip value from their savings, and they are super lucky and win a lottery. lol
Quite the group of who’s who. Only in death do they get to meet each other. 🙂
A veritable power house of Argentine society! 🙂
Absolutely fascinating!!! “A spatial expression of death, mirroring the opulent tastes of the living” Wonderfully done Madu, I would love to go here !
Thank you Kathryn. The amount of history encapsulated there is indeed fascinating!
It was simply amazing to me!
Extraordinary! The most elaborate place of the dead I’ve ever heard of, I think, Madhu. I guess it’s a manifestation of culture, religion and the times, but still, I just can’t get my head around that degree of pride and right. Having said that, wandering a picturesque cemetery, especially in winter, when everything is shrouded in white – indescribably romantic, in a way. Lovely post, Madhu 🙂
Vanity too I would think Meredith. It is a fascinating place nevertheless. Just tallying my images of the graves to the names, was an education in itself!
This was an absolute feast to read, see. Thank you. This was a top quality post. Loved it.
Thank you so much for your generous praise Noeleen 🙂
Nice. I have been there. I do have a scary photo of the place. I will search for it.. I think is hiding from me, and post it. You will find it interesting!
Thanks. I look forward to seeing it Cedric 🙂
Interesting, informative post, Madhu…. what an incredible place. And the Eva Peron story takes some beating!
Doesn’t it? Imagine that kind of fan following for a first lady! 🙂
Fabulous pictures and wonderful writing! *LIKE* 🙂 I’m a big fan of cemeteries, and Eva Peron fascinated me as a child. I can’t believe her body was carried around for so long!
Oh thank you!
I was too. The Evita Museum has a fascinating collection of her memorabilia. And an outdoor cafe serves the most delightful Brie onion crepes and cider!! Just in case you go 😀
It’s a bit far for me.. 😦 I can try to make the crepes here though, there’s plenty of Brie in France 🙂
a wilder story than a mystery novel Madhu!
Real life is like that sometimes isn’t it Christine? 😀
Freundliche Grüße von uns. Wolfgang
Thank you Wolfgang 🙂
Fascinating post, Madhu! Thank you for sharing.
My pleasure entirely Paula 🙂
I have always loved graveyards, from the ornate to the pauper. I visit and wander them all. This one looks to be one I could spend hours wandering. Thank you for the tour.
A place to lose yourself in for sure. Thank you for coming along Valentine 🙂
Amazing sculptures… Cemeteries are such interesting places to visit.
Great tour, my dear Madhu! 🙂
Thank you dear Marina 🙂
What a fascinating place and terrific write up. 😉
Thank you dear Eliz 🙂
I had no idea about Eva Peron’s corpse and all its movement.
Perhaps her glamourous aura overshadows everything else about her life Juliann! 🙂
A very interesting story of the cemetery… and that’s the sort of place I’ve stayed away from for most of my life. But I have to say, the story of Eva Peron is probably the most interesting part of the story for me… and the irony of her finding her resting place with the aristocracy. All a very good story.
Thank you Shimon. I find cemeteries fascinating. Even such garishly ornate ones, for the stories those stones embody. Glad you enjoyed Eva’s story.
Stunning post, Madhu … tried the Eva Peron link, it doesn’t work. This is something new for me too.
It should work now. That is a link to her Wiki page. Try the ‘more places’ link. It leads you to the BBC article on the journey of her remains.
A resting place “to die for.” Thank you for the back story on this, Madhu.
We visited there when we were in Argentina, and found it fascinating. Thank you for filling us in on the history and politics of the place. Wonderful post, perfectly pairing your photos and stories, as always.
Impressive place! I have not seen such an elaborate and lavish place for the dead.
That is quite a final resting place for Eva Peron. Great post Madhu. 🙂
Oh man, this is a gem of a place to explore and I even managed to score a midday mass at the church. A piece of peace despite the Sunday crowds. Fun markets too!