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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!

Notice: Due to recent events, all cemeteries in Buenos Aires—Recoleta, Chacarita & Flores—will not allow visitors to enter with bags or backpacks, & handbags will be inspected by security.

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550. familia de saavedra lamas

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Saavedra Lamas

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.

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Saavedra Lamas

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.

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Saavedra Lamas

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.

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Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Saavedra Lamas, Nobel Peace Prize, medal

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.

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548. kevork akrabian

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Kevork Akrabian

Armenians first arrived in Argentina during two periods in the early 20th century, either escaping a horrendous genocide beginning in 1915 during World War I or a continued massacre by the Turks in 1921. Although no accurate numbers exist, an estimated one million people were murdered by the end of violence in 1923.

Born in Marash, Akrabian’s father died defending a German orphanage where various Armenian families had gone for safe haven. Inside the orphanage also happened to be his future wife, Luisa Naldjian… but they wouldn’t meet until much later. Akrabian & other family members managed to escape to the State of Aleppo, but he left in 1924 on a ship bound for Buenos Aires.

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Kevork Akrabian

Eventually Akrabian found work at a shoe factory where Luisa Naldjian worked. Her father happened to be the owner, & they’d arrived in Buenos Aires one year earlier. Sounds like fate! They married in their early 20’s, opened their own shoe factory together & became very active in the Armenian community in Buenos Aires. Most Armenians settled in the neighborhood of Palermo where self-help organizations opened & restaurants thrive to this day. One reminder of this community is a monument in the Plazoleta Monte Ararat (Charcas 3500):

Buenos Aires, Palermo, Plazoleta Monte Ararat

In the 1960s, Akrabian purchased the Wilton Hotel in Barrio Norte, near the intersection of Callao & Santa Fe. Flying flags of Armenia & Argentina, the hotel became a hub for Armenians visiting from abroad. Unfortunately flags of other countries are now mixed in with that of Armenia, but I had friends visit in 2003 & stay there… at that time the original flags still flew:

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Kevork Akrabian, Wilton Hotel
Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Kevork Akrabian, Wilton Hotel

Two plaques on Akrabian’s tomb commemorate his service as president of the Unión Compatriótica Armenia de Marash:

His wife, Luisa, passed away in 2015 at the age of 100 & is also buried here. For more information about this important family, read this post on the Aurora Prize website.

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547. historic photo 12

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Mejoras en la Capital de la República Argentina 1880-85, Foto-Lito, E. Halitzki

In this case: historic photos, plural. When this blog began in 2007, very little historical information about Recoleta Cemetery could be found online. Facebook was a new thing, bloggers dominated the internet & archives still had to be visited in person. But times change & thankfully so. Chatting with this blog’s co-author, Marcelo told me he’d seen a photo of Recoleta Cemetery on Facebook that was completely unknown to him. My response: Really??? No way! We’ve been though so many sources over the past 12 years that it seemed impossible, but our conversation sparked an entire afternoon of investigation. Here’s what we uncovered…

Mauricio V. Genta works for the Bibliotecas de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires scanning books & photo albums in the city’s collection. All scans are uploaded to Wikimedia Commons since the books are now in public domain. Marcelo talked with Mauricio & directed me to a Wikimedia photo album (Mejoras en la Capital de la República Argentina 1880-85) with three “new” photos of the cemetery! All were taken in 1885 by E. Halitzki for a studio named Foto-Lito at Tacuari 82 in Buenos Aires. Smaller versions below are linked to the original in Wikimedia Commons if you’d like a closer look.

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Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Mejoras en la Capital de la República Argentina 1880-85, Foto-Lito, E. Halitzki

#1 · What I love about this image is the amazing detail of the symbols above the entrance gate. Such beautiful background decoration for the scissors & knife & the Greek letters X & P! (see below) The entrance gate dates from 1881, so this may be the earliest photo of it in existence!

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Mejoras en la Capital de la República Argentina 1880-85, Foto-Lito, E. Halitzki

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Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Mejoras en la Capital de la República Argentina 1880-85, Foto-Lito, E. Halitzki

#2 · This was the image that started our conversation due to some confusion about what appeared in the background. At low resolution, there seems to be another gate at the far end of the central walkway. That would be odd since neither Marcelo nor I had heard about that. Some people on Facebook even doubted that this was Recoleta Cemetery, but the tomb of Quiroga on the left is unmistakable.

Again, with higher resolution, the answer is clear. A mausoleum surrounded by a wrought-iron gate sits in the spot occupied now by Carlos Pellegrini & Pedro Aramburu. Who did they replace? We’ll have to look in the records to find out since the name is unreadable. I love that it’s the first time we’ve seen this mausoleum though!

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Mejoras en la Capital de la República Argentina 1880-85, Foto-Lito, E. Halitzki

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Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Mejoras en la Capital de la República Argentina 1880-85, Foto-Lito, E. Halitzki

#3 · This section of niches exists today, but in a highly modified form. A dual gallery once sat alongside the Basilica del Pilar, as seen in the photos I obtained from the Archivo General de la Nación in 2008 (below). Unfortunately no date was available for the following photo, but the niches survived for some time:

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Archivo General de la Nación
Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Archivo General de la Nación

Today only a single wall exists; most of this elevated space has since been repurposed for mausoleums. But back to the original photo… we never knew these niches once had their own gate! Its decoration uses the same molds as the entrance gate, so this was likely designed by architect Juan Buschiazzo as well. Only a theory for now but exciting to think about!

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Mejoras en la Capital de la República Argentina 1880-85, Foto-Lito, E. Halitzki

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Thanks to Mauricio for his dedication & allowing us to see Recoleta Cemetery in as it was 140 years ago!

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546. rodolfo moreno

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, Rodolfo Moreno

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.

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, Rodolfo Moreno

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.

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, Rodolfo Moreno

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.

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545. arbigorria

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, Arbigorria

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.

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, Arbigorria, Carlos H. Besana

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:

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, Arbigorria

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!

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