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 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:
Occupying a prime piece of cemetery space—a wide, main axis close to the central Cristo Redentor statue—this mausoleum also attracts lots of attention thanks to an interesting design. Unfortunately its first occupant no longer resides here; you’ll have to go to the cathedral on Plaza de Mayo to pay your respects. Read on…
Born in 1788, Tomás Guido witnessed or participated in almost every major event during the creation of Argentina as an independent, new nation. He started young, defending Buenos Aires from both British invasions in 1806 & 1807 at the age of 18. Guido later accompanied Mariano Moreno on a diplomatic mission to the UK & was on board when Moreno passed away at sea. During independence wars, Guido traveled to Tucumán where he became a secretary & befriended both José de San Martín & Manuel Belgrano. Memoirs of his time with San Martín became an invaluable historic document, published in 1816. Over time, he would advance in rank & participate in the liberation of what we know as Chile & Perú.
Returning to Buenos Aires, Guido worked with the Rivadavia government during the war with Brazil. He continued to be appointed by successive leaders such as Manuel Dorrego, Juan Lavalle, Juan José Viamonte & surprisingly by both Juan Manuel de Rosas & Justo José de Urquiza at different moments. Usually involved in diplomacy & international relations, Guido passed away in 1866 in Buenos Aires after negotiating a peace agreement between Paraguay & the United States just a few years prior. His last wish was to be buried in the Andes, in remembrance of his time fighting for South American independence.
Legend claims that Guido’s second youngest child, Carlos Spano y Guido, felt so committed to his father’s final wish that he had stones brought from the Andes to build this mausoleum. We’ve yet to see any hard proof, but it’s a wonderful story. Some even insist that Carlos built the tomb himself by hand. Again, unlikely but hey… sounds great! The design of the tomb fits an era when romantic ideas were combined with images of nature, & the pintoresco style was born. Just check out a nearby tomb to Gregorio Torres with an almost identical wrought-iron door:
On the 100th anniversary of his death, descendants of Tomás Guido authorized the national government to move his remains. Guido keeps company once again with San Martín in the cathedral of Buenos Aires:
An important figure in his own right, Carlos Spano y Guido & his descendants remain buried here. Guido y Spano wrote well-received romantic prose & became director of the National Archive (plaque below dedicated to his passing). He also worked to found the Sociedad Protectora de Animales with José Pérez Mendoza. In 1946, this tomb was designated a National Historic Monument by the Perón government.
Beautiful panel signed by M. Pla y Vilar. Remember that morning & sunset are the best times to peek inside mausoleums to find these gems. To see more examples, type “stained glass” into the search bar. Happy holidays to everyone, & thanks very much for all the support this year. Hope you’ve enjoyed Recoleta Cemetery as much as we do!