The Elitist Cemetery Of Recoleta

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.
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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!
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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.

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Madhu is an Interior designer turned travel blogger on a long sabbatical to explore the world. When not crafting stories on The Urge To Wander, she's probably Tweeting @theurgetowander or sharing special moments on instagram.com/theurgetowander

59 thoughts on “The Elitist Cemetery Of Recoleta

    1. Most were over the top Suzanne! But the sculpture was of high quality….works of top European artists of the time!

    1. No, just overwhelmed!
      We are off to Kolkata for the Christmas weekend Ishita. I would appreciate some tips 🙂

      1. 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:)

        1. 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!

  1. 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. 🙂

    1. Me neither 🙂 I am not too sure she would have been unhappy Jo, considering the family owned a plot there!

    1. It really is an open air museum Frank! And prominent on the tourist trail, although most just visit Eva and Sarmiento 🙂

    1. An indication of the might of money and power 🙂 Can you imagine spending a lifetime saving up to be able to ‘belong’ here???

      1. 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

  2. Absolutely fascinating!!! “A spatial expression of death, mirroring the opulent tastes of the living” Wonderfully done Madu, I would love to go here !

  3. 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 🙂

    1. 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!

  4. This was an absolute feast to read, see. Thank you. This was a top quality post. Loved it.

  5. Interesting, informative post, Madhu…. what an incredible place. And the Eva Peron story takes some beating!

  6. 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!

    1. 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 😀

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

    1. Thank you Shimon. I find cemeteries fascinating. Even such garishly ornate ones, for the stories those stones embody. Glad you enjoyed Eva’s story.

    1. 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.

  9. Hi 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.

  10. 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!

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