The list of occupants of Recoleta Cemetery reads like a Who’s Who of Argentine history & society. The elite, an aspiring middle class, friends, enemies & those who contributed to the general welfare of Argentina all share space in a miniature city of mausoleums & monuments.
During a visit, you’ll stroll past Presidents & politicians (some naughty, some nice), Nobel Prize winners, literary greats, entertainers, scientists, military leaders, sports figures & even some who died tragically. The cemetery’s most famous resident, Eva María Duarte de Perón—simply Evita to her devotées—even had a bizarre post-mortem journey before finally resting in peace in Recoleta.
As the coronavirus makes its way to Argentina, staff at Recoleta Cemetery are taking preventative measures to ensure everyone’s health & safety. As of 13 Mar 2020, the cemetery is CLOSED until further notice to all tourists. Below are two official communiques from Recoleta Cemetery:
We’ll let you know when they reopen, but in the meantime feel free to take a virtual visit by scanning through over 550 posts on this blog. More important: stay healthy & respect recommendations by health care officials. Recoleta Cemetery will be waiting for you when this health emergency ends!
Dates of important historical events can be difficult to put into context, as are the lives of everyone profiled in this blog… especially when names are foreign & important periods are mentioned only in passing. Covering the first 200 years, this time line of Argentina’s history should enhance your visit to Recoleta Cemetery. Broad periods are listed above while specific events are mentioned below. Although not intended to be 100% comprehensive, we’ll likely add events from time to time.
If you purchase a PDF guide, the time line comes included as an appendix on the last page. But if you are just wandering on your own, the full version of the time line is available by clicking on the image above… free of charge. Please do not use this time line for commercial purposes or for derivative works.
Marcelo & I don’t live in countries where Lonely Planet guidebooks in English are readily available, so it’s always nice to pop into a real bookstore —while they still exist!— to see if our cemetery PDF guide is still recommended. Happy to find good news. The photo above comes from the latest edition (11th, published 2018) of LP’s Argentina guidebook.
Apologies for a backpost, but this audiovisual art installation took place in 2005 & we’ve only now found information about it! This blog began in 2007; however, I often went to the cemetery to guide tours & for pleasure even before then… I must have been working in Europe when this event happened. Fortunately good documentation exists online, so we can add it to our archive of cemetery events here.
Nicolás Varchausky & Eduardo Molinari created this installation using sound clips taken from historic archives, augmented with other sounds from diverse sources such as animals, weapons, screams & objects. Visual effects were also necessary since this project took place at night… one of the few occasions that Recoleta Cemetery has been opened to the public after dark. The name “Tertulia” also alludes to one of the event’s goals: a dialogue or exchange of ideas based on a different way of looking at this particular physical space packed with so much history.
As they wrote in a book published in 2016 —eleven years after the event— which is available in an abbreviated form for free download on Issuu:
“Tertulia proposes an audiovisual exploration of a space, attempts to extract its resonances as well as its historic reflections. The projection of images (again, coming from archives & subject to technological intervention) and illumination in conjunction with a display of sound works toward a new & profound way of hear-see that, in these moments of increased effort to recover our history, is essential.”
If anyone has photos from that evening’s event, we’d be happy to post them here!
Coinciding with Halloween, a radio program recently debuted that I’d recorded earlier this year with Rick Steves –a popular, US-based travel pro & my employer for the past 20 years. I’ve recorded several radio shows with Rick, but this one was particularly fun. We discussed why it’s important to visit cemeteries, how Recoleta Cemetery is run & of course, shared a couple of popular legends: Rufina Cambacérès & David Alleno. Check out the first 15 minutes of program #581 on SoundCloud (linked below):
Born in Buenos Aires in 1878, Carlos Saavedra Lamas had family roots dating back to the earliest days of Argentina. As great-grandson of founding father Cornelio de Saavedra, perhaps Carlos seemed destined for success. But he did something no one ever expected… Saavedra Lamas became the first Argentine to receive a Nobel Prize.
His career path began as a lawyer & teacher, & in 1908 Saavedra Lamas started in politics as representative for the city of Buenos Aires in Congress. During the presidency of Victorino de la Plaza, he became the Minister of Justice & Public Instruction. Remember that the Victorino de la Plaza administration had to implement universal suffrage when President Roque Sáenz Peña died just after the law had been passed. One other interesting connection: Saavedra Lamas married Rosa, the daughter of Roque Sáenz Peña. But it was his next big government position that would send him into the international spotlight.
As Minister of Foreign Relations during the military-run Agustín P. Justo administration (1932-38), Saavedra Lamas negotiated peace between Paraguay & Bolivia during the Chaco War. At a nexus between four countries, the Chaco region had long been an area of contention. Argentina had most of the power, treating Paraguay as a feudal trade partner. Brazil feared the dominance of Argentina in South America, & Bolivia yearned for an outlet to the Pacific Ocean in order to avoid being landlocked by other nations. Recently discovered oil also played a role in the conflict. Saavedra Lamas persevered to find a peaceful resolution to the war by addressing the League of Nations & at the same time prevented the USA from intervening in what it saw as a “local,” hemispherical dispute.
During the Chaco War, Saavedra Lamas drew up a Treaty of Non-agression & Conciliation (referred to in Spanish as the Pacto Antibélico) which stated that signatories would not recognize any territorial change in the entire hemisphere brought about by an act of war. By 1935, all nations in North & South America —with the exception of Bolivia & Costa Rica— had signed the peace agreement. What an amazing accomplishment in a decade full of nascent dictatorships & warmongering! Six European countries, including Spain, also ratified the treaty. As of 1948, another treaty superseded that of Saavedra Lamas but many nations still recognize the original. In 1936, Saavedra Lamas received the Nobel Prize for Peace, becoming the first Argentine to receive the honor. He passed away in 1959 & was buried with honors in Recoleta Cemetery.
A bitter afternote: The actual medal given to Saavedra Lamas disappeared after his death, then turned up in 1993 in a pawn shop. It passed through several private collectors until being auctioned in March 2014 in Baltimore. A representative in Argentina’s Congress proposed buying it back… but as the second-only Nobel Peace Prize medal ever up for sale, it fetched an amazing price: $1,116,250 USD! Supposedly a private Asian collector now has a symbol of Argentina’s once prominent role in international peacemaking.