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Endless Mile, Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery guide

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.

Want to learn more? Get all the details in our highly-recommended pdf guide. The authors of this blog are proud to have guided more than 1,500 people through Recoleta Cemetery… join in!

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533. josefa v. de pujol

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, Juan Gregorio Pujol

Built initially for his wife, Juan Gregorio Pujol found his way here too after passing away in 1861. Born in the province of Corrientes in 1817—just after Argentina earned its independence—much of Pujol’s life coincided with the new nation’s struggles.

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, Juan Gregorio Pujol

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, Juan Gregorio Pujol

Pujol graduated from the University of Córdoba with a law degree in 1838. After returning to Corrientes, Pujol obtained various government positions until named Governor in 1852. He worked with Justo José de Urquiza & Santiago Derqui to write a constitution that would be acceptable to Buenos Aires… always seen as problematic due to the region’s overwhelming economic power. Pujol did much to promote education & favor local trade in Corrientes, including aligning the province with Paraguay’s dictator, Francisco Solano López. Anything to avoid siding with Buenos Aires! In the end, Pujol had severe disagreements with Carlos Tejedor & Bartolomé Mitre & foresaw the coming civil war.

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, Juan Gregorio Pujol

Pujol died in August 1861, still serving as Governor of Corrientes & one month before the Battle of Pavón ended the Confederación Argentina which he had supported & served his entire life. But Pujol’s most widely recognized contribution to Argentina was establishing mail service in Corrientes in 1856 along with the first postage stamp used in national territory:

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532. historic photo 11

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Histarmar, Borra, Broszeit

Juan Bautista Borra & Enrique Broszeit pioneered aerial photography in Argentina during the 1920s. Flying in propeller planes while taking risky positions for the best photos, they’ve left behind a valuable archive of Buenos Aires in its prime. More of their story can be found on the wonderful resource, Histarmar (in Spanish). Click on the above photo for a full-size version, found on the Histarmar website.

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531. dechert-barletti

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, Dechert-Barletti, Arturo Illia

We love a good mystery…

Aquí descansaron los restos del Presidente de la República Dr. Arturo U. Illia desde su fallecimiento enero de 1983 a octubre de 1983

President of the Republic, Dr. Arturo U. Illia, laid to rest here from his passing in January 1983 until October 1983

President Illia had been forced from office by a military coup in 1966, another victim of the revolving door of democracy & dictatorship in the 20th century. The Argentina Independent has a good article describing Illia’s last day in office. As a high-ranking member of the Unión Cívica Radical, he was entitled to be buried in a mausoleum dedicated to those who had died in the 1890 revolution: a conflict that gave birth to that political party. Obviously he was moved there in October 1983, but why did Illia spend 10 months in this spot? A Presidential sash inside is another reminder of his temporary stay.

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, Dechert-X, Arturo Illia

At first I thought this family might be related to Illia’s wife, Silvia Elvira Martorell Kaswalder. She had been undergoing treatment for cancer in a Texas hospital when Illia was forced from office in 1966. Silvia passed away only a few months later back home in Córdoba & was buried in Recoleta Cemetery in the tomb of Hipólito Yrigoyen’s mother. Several decades later, she moved to a separate vault. A search in Genealogía Familiar turned up nothing to relate either Illia or his wife to the Dechert-Barletti family.

According to a 1977 edition of the Boletín Oficial, Jorge Luis Dechert & Ernesto Alberto Barletti formed a company called Nininco that specialized in radio & television components as well as albums & cassette tapes. The business venture no longer exists, so even that extra info was a dead end.

If anyone has information as to why a former President temporarily rested in peace here, please help us solve this mystery!

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530. giulio monteverde

Giulio Monteverde

Many upper-class Argentine families were proud of their Italian heritage, so quite a bit of Italian art can be found in Recoleta Cemetery. Born in a small town in Piemonte in 1837, Giulio Monteverde moved with his family to Genoa & began his artistic career there at the age of nine. A very young apprentice! Later he studied in Rome & eventually became a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts. By the 1870s, Monteverde drew critical acclaim for his statue of a young Christopher Columbus & a work titled The Genius of Franklin… a young angel holding a lightning rod.

Monteverde indirectly influenced Recoleta Cemetery by teaching two famous sculptors who would leave works inside: Victor de Pol & Lola Mora. But he would also leave one piece of his own. When the entrance gate of Recoleta Cemetery was enlarged in 1881, architect Juan Buschiazzo incorporated a chapel for families to hold a final service. Who better to decorate that chapel than the famous Monteverde? His crucifixion statue is often missed since visitors rarely stop inside. Take a moment to appreciate this wonderful work of art:

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, entrada, capilla, Giulio Monteverde

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, entrada, capilla, Giulio Monteverde

Monteverde also made one of the most recognized pieces of funerary art for the Monumental Cemetery of Staglieno in 1882 (first photo below). Often referred to as the Angel of Death or the Angel of Resurrection, a copy exists in Recoleta Cemetery on the Llambi Campbell family vault (second photo below):

Cemetery, Staglieno, Giulio Monteverde

Recoleta Cemetery, Llambi Campbell

He was also hired to produce a monument for the city of Buenos Aires dedicated to Giuseppe Mazzini, who fought for the unification of Italy & popular democracy. The 1879 statue can be found in Plaza Roma:

Buenos Aires, Plaza Roma, Giuseppe Mazzini, Giulio Monteverde

Monteverde passed away in 1917, leaving behind a legacy of art & beauty. Most of the plaster studies for his sculptures can be found today in the Gipsoteca Monteverde in his birthplace of Bistagno.

Portrait & Staglieno photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Mazzini photo courtesy of Centro Virtual de Arte Argentino.

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529. una arquitectura para la muerte

Tapa, Una Arquitectura para la Muerte, 1993

References to Recoleta Cemetery appear in some unexpected places, but I’ve always been surprised at the lack of academic research about its development as one of the most recognized & visited spots in Buenos Aires. Not long ago, I obtained a copy of a book titled “Una Arquitectura para la Muerte” (An Architecture for Death) that was published in Spain after a 1991 conference about contemporary cemeteries around the world. This large book compiles all the research from that conference & first became available two years later in 1993.

Recoleta Cemetery got some much-deserved space with two separate articles. The first was written by team of authors—María Rosa Cicciari, Marcelo Huernos, Rubén Lasso & Carla Wainsztok—who worked in conjunction with the Instituto Histórico de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires. I’m surprised that I never heard of them since I often went to find info at the Instituto Histórico. Anyway, La muerte en el imaginario social en Buenos Aires does its best to favor the less exclusive Chacarita Cemetery but also presents quite a few interesting facts about Recoleta Cemetery that I’ve had trouble confirming exact dates or never knew…

  • Funeral carriages often took a route down Calle Florida to Recoleta Cemetery so everyone could participate in mourning along the most famous street in Buenos Aires.
  • Bodies were wrapped in sheets due to a lack of caskets during the yellow fever epidemic that gave birth to Chacarita Cemetery.
  • The Estación Fúnebre Bermejo existed at the intersection of Calle Ecuador (formerly named Bermejo) & Avenida Corrientes to handle the transfer of the deceased by train to Chacarita, complete with offices & rooms for autopsies.
  • A trolley line for Recoleta Cemetery began service in 1870, prior to the Lacroze line to Chacarita which commenced operation in 1888.
  • The first cremation in Buenos Aires took place due to a cholera epidemic & became a standardized procedure in 1886.
  • A 1923 city ordinance prohibited a public funeral service in Recoleta Cemetery with a later transfer of the deceased to another burial location. Evidently the social status of being buried in Recoleta Cemetery generated a few odd practices like this one.
  • Home wakes continued until the early 20th century, like that of Domingo Faustino Sarmiento. They state that funeral homes didn’t really catch on until 1960!

Familia Leloir, architectural diagrams

The second article—Arquitectura funeraria de Buenos Aires, La Recoleta by María Beatriz Arévalo & María del Carmen Magaz—starts with a lengthy history of cemeteries in Spanish territories & the creation of Recoleta Cemetery. The authors then group funeral architecture into trends based either on nationality (English, Italian & French) or by period (Art Nouveau, for example). AfterLife has covered most every topic discussed in the article, but one quote stood out for me… the basis for their research stemmed from a 1989 art history conference that outlined the conditions for every modern cemetery:

Por un lado pasa a ser una reducción simbólica de la ciudad, en segundo término es una galería donde la comunidad conserva la memoria de sus grandes hombres y, por último, es un ámbito donde desarrollar el arte.

On one hand it should be a symbolic reduction of the city, in second place a gallery space where the community preserves the memory of its great men and, lastly, a place for art to develop.

That happens to be the perfect response when anyone asks themselves: why would I visit a cemetery?

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