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LA RECOLETA - Life after Death?
RIP – Life can indeed begin with death here in Argentina’s most heralded cemetery. The oft-used saying, ‘It is cheaper to live your life extravagantly, than to be buried in la Recoleta!’ is probably not far off, as you will quickly notice wandering through this city of marble. Most visitors go straight for Evita’s tomb, snap a couple of pictures and leave it at that, but there is much more here. Wander the paths and much of Argentina’s history unfolds in front of you – presidents, sportsmen, bankers, chemists, soldiers, admirals, mayors – some of the biggest names of Argentina are here: Yrigoyen, Illia, Mitre, Avellaneda, Alem, Rosas, Alvear, Leloir, and on and on – of course, Evita, too. Death is an equalizer. Enemies in life rest near each other: Evita and General Pedro Arambura; Juan Manuel de Rosas and Bartolome Mitre all much closer in death than ever in life.
La Recoleta also emphasizes the oligarchic nature of society in BsAs. Money alone does not ensure entombment here. Societal position and family name remain very important factors. There is a much larger BsAs cemetery for the more common at la Chacarita – found across the street from the end of subway B line. Here there are thousands buried. Juan Peron, himself, is here, a short distance away from the tango legend Carlos Gardel. Both cemeteries are open from 7am to 6 pm. See my TL on ‘Argentine History Entombed’ for more on the cemetery at la Recoleta.
- Museum Visits
- Historical Travel
Recoleta Cemetery (1822) is the last resting place of the prominent in Argentina. It was mid-day when we made our way through the narrow walkways formed by row after row of miniature mausoleums--6400 people are entombed within the thirteen acre cemetery.
The heat radiated off the tombs, yet many people were taking their time reading the plaques affixed to their walls. Presidents, dignitaries and the celebrated rest in family crypts here. It is a place for the affluent, yet a commoner was buried in this cemetery, too...Eva Peron, (wife of Argentinian leader Juan Peron) who is lying in the Duarte family tomb. We noticed it was a popular stop with the visitors.
Most of the graves are well kept, but a few were decaying from lack of care, displaying shattered windows and discheveled contents like altars and stained altar cloths. While visitors roamed the grounds, cats soaked up the sun on the tomb's marble steps seemingly oblivious to passers by.
Recoleta is open daily from 8 am -6 pm.
- Historical Travel
Cementerio de la Recoleta
At the very least, a visit to Recoleta Cemetery should disabuse you of the notion that all are equal in death.
The cemetery covers 13½ acres of prime property and has more than 6,400 tombs and mausoleums, 70 of which have been declared historic monuments. The mausoleums resemble chapels, Greek temples, pyramids, and miniature mansions.
Numerous Argentine presidents are buried here, including Domingo Sarmiento and Juan Manuel de Rosas, a tyrant who once slaughtered his opponents against these very cemetery walls.
One of the most visited tombs — by tourists and locals alike — is Evita Peron's.
This cemetery was a church graveyard until 1882 when the Governor opened it to the general public and renamed it Cemetery of the North.
The majority of materials used in the construction of tombs between 1880 and 1930 were imported from Paris and Milan, and important sculptural works grace many of the tombs.
7 h - 18 h, daily
As much as you like.
- Arts and Culture
THE WALLED CITY ..... OF THE DEAD
Outside of the walled city is a huge area bursting with life. Street Artists vie with Street Sellers to attract your attention. This is the Plaza Francia and bright flowers and ornate handmade crafts cover a huge area. Now just step a few feet past this explosion of colour, inside the walls, and enter the CITY OF THE DEAD. Not a town, but a City full of buildings, tree lined avenues and side streets packed with people. The past residents of Buenos Aires. In fact the Social Elite of Argentina. A veritable Who's Who of rich businessmen, politicians, artists, and the other Aristocracy of this Latin land. It is a cold, grey and austere city. Yet, it is compelling to walk its tombed streets.
No cemetery on earth is like it. There are not single graves, but mausoleums rivalling modern office buildings. Many are multi-story and enough have doors and windows so that you can see the stairs leading not just down, but often up. Many of these buildings are marked only by the family name on the outside. The local culture of life and death is enshrined here. Many plaques only have the date of death, not birth.
Also, it is a Latin American tradition for females to keep the family name even after marriage. So you will find the city's most well known resident in the mausoleum marked 'FAMILA DUARTE'. The larger avenues are peppered with statues to the great, the good and the powerful. In many societies the powerful are humbled in death and little remembered. Here, they keep their status and grandeur. The marble and stone buildings a final acknowledgement of family wealth.
Wander to the left and chase a few of the resident cats to find what you came to see - the final resting arrangements of Evita Perón. Actress, Champion of the sick & poor, wife to a President and Politician in her own right. Separated only in death, she is buried in the Duarte family crypt. Her husband is strangely not even in Recoleta.
And now flee through the gates - you are suddenly back in the Plaza Francia with all of its vibrant activities of life.
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Grand and Ostentatious Cemetery
I might ask why I would visit cemetery, living of the dead. La Recoleta Cemetery historically is well known and attracts many visitors. It is where rich and famous Argentineans are buried.
I don’t know much the history of Argentina, but I have heard of Eva Peron from the movie Evita starring Madonna. "Dont cry for me Argentina". La Recoleta cemetery is her final resting place.
When we arrived at the cemetery the first we look for was her grave. Her grave is not just a grave, it is more like mausoleum. Compare to some of other mausoleum Eva tomb is simple. There are many marble plaques of her written in Spanish.
La Recoleta cemetery is one of the most important and beautiful cemetery in the world. As you enter you will see four ancient Greek columns. Inside the cemetery is laid out in sections, trees on both sides of the walkways leading to different mausoleums decorated with statues, Christian crucifixion and one we saw with Jewish symbol. There are mausoleums more elaborate than others even ostentatious.
I must admit it was worth visiting this grand La Recoleta Cemetery.
The cemetery is open every day from 10am until 5pm.
- Historical Travel
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- Family Travel
There are several options for visiting Recoleta Cemetery. There are free guided tours, currently at 11 am on Tuesday and Thursday in English. There are paid tours such as the one offered by Tango History Tours, many of the city tours include a stop here or you can do like we did and do a self guided tour. It seemed like a lot of the bus tours were there right about 11 am so this might not be the best time to visit.
Most people will seek out Evita's tomb (look for Family Duarte, not Peron) because she will be the only person buried there that they know. But have a look around at some of the other tombs, works of art created in memory of their loved ones.
The only other person we knew of was Luis Firpo, a heavyweight boxer made famous by his fight with Jack Dempsey, immortalized in a painting by George Bellows. You'll also want to find the tomb for the Paz Family who owned the La Prensa newspaper and the Art Deco tomb that was erected by the mother of Rufina Cambaceres who was buried alive because she was in a coma, subsequently saved by some workers who heard her screaming.
I noticed that a lot of the tombs bore the same names as the streets in Buenos Aires, if you go on a guided tour, surely they would tell you the history behind some of these names.
If you are visiting on a Saturday or Sunday, be sure to check out the Recolata Market nearby. And watch out for all the resident cats, local ladies feed the cats daily and they can be seen darting in and out of the alley ways.
After finishing our tour of the San Telmo area, and stopping for lunch, we said that is just about enough walking for one day! So, we then took a taxi across the city to the Recoleta district.
It was time to visit the world-famous cemetery ourselves to see what all the fuss was about! The Recoleta area was originally a wooded section of land outside of the city itself. This led to the Dominican and Franciscan orders developing religious 'retreats' here in the early 1700s, where the monks could meditate - thus the name 'recoleta' which means 'a place of retreat'.
The city gradually expanded over the next century, slowly bringing Recoleta into it's grasp. However, the big changes came following the outbreak of Yellow Fever in the heart of Buenos Aires in 1871, resulting in the rich city dwellers choosing to move to new, healthier ground. They brought their money with them to Recoleta and developed this part of the city into an exclusive and trendy place to live.
Naturally, they had to have a cemetery able to meet their high standards, so Recoleta cemetery, with it's classic Greek-style neo-Doric entrance gate, fit the bill perfectly!
- Family Travel
Elite Burial Ground
We had a beautiful sunny afternoon for our tour of this amazing cemetery, almost too bright! After living their lives of luxury in the trendy restaurants and lush parklands of this part of Buenos Aires, the elite of the city made sure that they had an equally elite place for their bodies to rest in eternity.
Argentinians have a strange fascination for the deceased and, in fact, sometimes quote the date of a person's death as the official 'marker' for the person rather than their birth date. The crypts here are so ornate that seventy of them, along with the entrance gate, have been declared National Historic Sites. In fact, the saying is that it is cheaper to live a life of extravagance in this neighbourhood than it is to pay for your time in Recoleta! Indeed, money alone does not always guarantee admitance to this exclusive club - it is your surname and pedigree that also matters.
We enjoyed our walk among the ornate crypts, with the above ground portion merely the tip of the iceburg. Deep under each one, are burial chambers set up to hold the entire clan.
- Family Travel
And Some of the Not So Elite
However, despite it's exclusiveness, sometimes an interloper can slip in and lock the vault door behind them! Such was the case with Evita (Eva) Peron, a commoner who climbed to power in concert with her husband, Juan Peron, an eventual two-time President of Argentina.
After Eva died of cancer in 1952 during Juan's first term, her body was embalmed in the hope that she might rise again. Shortly afterward, in 1955, Juan was forced from office and one of his bitter foes had Eva's body sent to to an unheard of cemetery in Italy, while Juan himself spent his years in exile in Madrid, Spain. In 1970, the perpetrator of the deed was assassinated and his body was then held as a bargaining chip for revealing where Eva was buried in Italy. Once her body was returned to Juan in Spain, the other body was released to his relatives for burial in Recoleta. In 1974, Juan Peron returned to power in Argentina and brought Eva back with him, to finally be interred in Recoleta only a few tombs away from her 'body snatcher'!
The cemetery was not too crowded when we visited, but the one place where we did have to deal with a small line was in front of Eva's vault.
- Family Travel
The custom in Argentina is for a wife to retain her maiden name, even after marriage. Thus, to find Eva Peron's burial spot in Recoleta, you will have to seek out the tomb of the Duarte family, her maiden name. Her husband, Juan Peron is actually buried across town in Chacarita, an entirely different cemetery!
The Duarte vault is not even located on one of the main corridors of Recoleta, but is instead just an average tomb down a typical small side alleyway. There is no 'sign' pointing you to it's location, but if you follow the crowds you probably will find it without too much difficulty.
Just to make sure that Eva's body does not experience another unintended trip across the Atlantic Ocean, she is buried 27-feet deep in the locked Duarte concrete vault!
- Family Travel
The Recoleta Cemetery is without doubt one of the strangest places I´ve ever visited. Each family seems to be trying to outdo the other in terms of who has the largest, most ornamental, intricately decorated tombstones. Tombstone is the wrong word as many of the final resting places in Recoleta are more like huge temples or homes - I´ve never seen anywhere quite like it.
The one tomb that all visitors come to see, that of the Duarté family (where Evita is buried) is much less ostentatious than the others. Interestingly, there was much opposition to the Duarté plot from upper class Argentinians, who felt the Duartés were too common a family to merit a plot in Recoleta.
Many other well known Argentinians are buried here and a map at the entrance shows you who is buried where. I was quite surprised to see a number of Irish names amongst the burial plots. The most famous of these is Admirante Brown, originally from Mayo, who played a big part in the War of Independence and who is something of a national hero in Argentina.
There are free guided tours in English of the cemetery every Tuesday and Thursday at 11am, but if you can't make these it's just as good exploring on your own.
The most famous cemetery
I highly recommend visiting this cemetery while in Recoleta (Plaza Francia area). There are no graves here but mausoleums made of granite or marble. The architecture is really superb and the cemetery is quite well-kept. Whole families rest here. You can get a glimpse of the coffins through the glass windows, some of them are really dusty as not all the relatives of those buried there take care of them.
There are guided tours, one of them is about love stories concerning some of the people resting in the cemetery.
Evita (Eva Perón) is buried here, and so are many Argentine historic figures like Domingo F. Sarmiento, who opened the first school in the country.
Evita's Resting Place
The cemetery was created in the former Franciscan monsatery's gardens around 1820. There is a mixture of architectural and sculptural mix where the deceased came from the high society and played an important role in Argentine history. The giant vaults, tombs and resting places are incredible and it feels more of a village than a cemetery.
The important residents that laid there includes the plots of former presidents, Argentine heros and most famous, Evita who is buried in the Familia Duarte Tomb. Evita's plot was fought as Buenos Aires Society did not want her to rest there and, even today, her grave is not signposted but you'll soon more or less find it by following the crowds.
Recoleta Cemetry - Evita's grave
I wanted to see Evita’s grave, and so I decided to walk to this cemetery which was easily identifiable because of the big tall walls surrounding this collection of graves - of rich and famous Argentinians.
I entered the place and noticed groups of people/tourists going in as well. I saw a map and just tried to picture how to get to Evita’s tomb, but it was easier to just follow where the groups of people were going - to Evita!
There’s a lot of nice and big marble and granite tombs for the rich and famous, and I saw stray cats sleeping on the structures. At Evita’s tomb which was on a narrow pathway, you would see the bronze plaque bearing her name. I already read beforehand that the tomb was not impressive and just small, but what was nice was that people still offered flowers to this celebrity first lady who died at 33 yo of uterine cancer in 1952. She had a lot of charisma since she came from the working class and ended up at the top of the political ladder. Remember Madonna even made a musical about this Argentinian legend.
If you are up for a snack, the cemetery also has elegant café patios beside it. I just went there during the day - I think at night, the spirits might eat with you...
I made a video of my short trip to Buenos Aires on Youtube. Hope you like this:
JUMPING NORMAN IN BUENOS AIRES
- Historical Travel
Graves and Cats
I have been to Buenos Aires so many times and never been to the Cemetery. Liz loves cemeteries and wanted to see the tomb of Eva Peron. So Rob, Liz and I spent an afternoon wandering around and looking at some of the tombs of recoletta. The tombs range from simple to over the top elaborate. The elite of Buenos Aires society have been buried here and their tombs reflect their wealth and status. The main atraction is the cemetery is the Tomb of Eva Peron..you know you're there by the large crowd of people and tons of flowers surrounding the tomb.
Another atraction of the cemetery is the cats. I was surprised at how many cats roam free in the cemetery. Liz loves cats and was playing with each one we encountered....despite Rob and I protesting they were dirty.
I was glad I came and was surprised at how grand some of the tombs were....it is a must see in Buenos Aires.
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