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