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.
Born in 1879 in Buenos Aires to dual immigrant parents —his father from Chile, his mother from Brazil— Rodolfo Moreno received a doctorate in law at the age of 21. Afterwards he taught civil & criminal law classes at universities in both La Plata & Buenos Aires… at the same time. A gift for writing allowed him opportunities direct a local newspaper as well as publish a 7-volume work about criminal law, his specialty.
Law in Argentina has often been a stepping stone into the political arena, & Moreno soon moved away from university teaching. In 1914, he became a minister in the provincial Buenos Aires government. For most of the 1920s, Moreno served as a representative (diputado) in Congress for the same province. And in the 1930s, he jumped around from position to position, but one of Moreno’s most interesting assignments was ambassador to Japan… in 1939 & 1940 just as World War II erupted. After the war, Moreno would publish a book about his experience there.
In the midst of electoral fraude scandals in the 1940s, Moreno became governor of Buenos Aires province for a little over a year. He even assigned Roberto Noble (of later Clarín fame) as one of his ministers. Moreno sought to take on Ramón Castillo for his conservative party’s nomination for President of Argentina but never got far. The volatile political climate of the 1940s forced Moreno to resign as governor in 1943, he left in exile to Uruguay the following year, then he returned to Argentina during the Perón era. But Moreno never served in political office again & passed away in Buenos Aires in 1953.
So far, we’ve found no online source with information about the Arbigorria family. And while they’ve obviously stopped paying maintenance fees, the vault is too unique not to mention here.
This pink-hued masterpiece off the tourist circuit offers one clue: a rare plaque by its architect, Carlos H. Besana. With a studio on Calle Tucumán just off Avenida Callao, Besana inherited a successful construction & architecture firm from his father, Pablo Besana. Pablo began his career in Milan & his native Lake Como, arriving in Buenos Aires in 1878. He collaborated with other major architects in the construction of some of the capital’s iconic buildings such as the first Facultad de Medicina on Avenida Córdoba & the national Congress. Around 1916, the firm acquired the name Besana & son.
Another splash of color decorates a recess in the vault… a painted Pietà image. Such colorful images are rare in Recoleta Cemetery, often only found in stained glass panels:
If anyone has any biographical information on the Arbigorria family, let us know & we will include it here. In the meantime, seek out this bit of color inside the cemetery!
As a rule, important families placed their mausoleums along the wider walkways of Recoleta Cemetery for maximum impact… but of course exceptions exist to every rule. Perhaps no other space was available at the time of construction, but that didn’t mean this branch of the Alvear family couldn’t build on a grand scale. Just not as many people discover it today.
Diego Estanislao de Alvear came from a long line of Argentina’s founding fathers. The family hailed from Andalucía where his great-great-grandfather founded the famous Alvear winery in Montilla (near Córdoba, photos below). Diego’s grandfather held a high position in the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata & defended Spain against the forces of Napoleon in Cádiz, after losing most family & possessions when the frigate Mercedes was sunk by British naval forces. Diego’s father, Carlos María de Alvear, was not on board the Mercedes & went on to help Argentina proclaim independence from Spain. He’s buried at the entrance of the cemetery for all to see.
Diego de Alvear passed away in 1887 after marrying into an even richer family, founding the Club del Progreso & serving in the Senate. The family hired French architect Albert Ballu to design their grand mausoleum in 1889, who would also be responsible for the Argentina pavilion at the World Expo in Paris that same year. So grand & inspiring, the pavilion was deconstructed, shipped to Argentina & rebuilt on Plaza San Martín to become a new home to the Museo de Bellas Artes in Buenos Aires. The family certainly knew how to pick the most popular architect for the time.
Even more surprising is the interior sculpture, difficult to appreciate due to the mausoleum’s doors. But take a peek inside. Signed by Jules Roulleau in 1889, four figures of women in mourning surround a bust of Diego de Alvear. Some sources claim them to be sisters, but since he only had three they are likely allegorical representations of sorrow.
How to find this hidden masterpiece? Look for the dome… while on the main walkway between the central Christ statue & Rufina Cambacérès (also on the way to Eva Perón), look up & left to find a large dome & you’re almost there:
One of 17 children—four destined to occupy high-ranking positions in the military—Manuel Jorge Campos participated in many of the major events of his day. Breaking from the influence of older brother General Luis María Campos & establishing a distinguished career of his own, the current condition of Manuel’s tomb suggests that history has perhaps forgotten his many contributions to Argentina… just compare with Luis María five mausoleums away.
As a young man, Manuel fought & was injured in several battles during the War of the Triple Alliance against Paraguay. Plaques at the mausoleum’s base depict those struggles:
He also helped squash the several rebellions of Buenos Aires against the national government as well as assisted Julio Argentino Roca in the fight to acquire land from the indigenous population in 1879. But his most historic claim to fame is a still-unconfirmed conspiracy which made the 1890 Revolution against the national government fail. Manuel Campos conspired with revolutionaries, gained their trust & became their military leader. Arrested & jailed shortly before the day of attack, President Roca visited Campos in his cell… historians believe some sneaky plans formed as a result of that meeting.
From his cell, Campos ordered the revolution to continue & fighting broke out in Buenos Aires. Only lasting four days, hundreds of people died including another Campos brother, Julio. Many believe that Campos made bad tactical decisions on purpose, throwing the revolution so Roca & his elite allies could remain in power. In spite of leading a rebellion, Campos never received any punishment. In fact, he spent the rest of his life in politics as either a Representative or Senator, supporting modernization of the military as proposed by fellow general Pablo Riccheri. On the back wall, a large plaque given by the legislature of the Province of Buenos Aires commemorates that service:
Of artistic merit is one of the few surviving works in Buenos Aires by Spanish painter & sculptor José Llaneces. Contemporary of Joaquín Sorolla & favored by the Spanish royal family at the beginning of the 20th century, Llaneces painted a series of murals for the Jockey Club… all destroyed in the 1953 fire set by Peronistas. A monument to Hipólito Vieytes by Llaneces sits in the neighborhood of Barracas, unseen & forgotten. The cemetery’s sculpture depicts a shrouded woman guiding a fallen soldier to heaven, perhaps Campos himself. The mausoleum received a write-up in a 1912 edition of the Spanish magazine Mundo Gráfico: