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.