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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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552. tertulia

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, Nicolás Varchausky, Eduardo Molinari, Tertulia

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.

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, Nicolás Varchausky, Eduardo Molinari, Tertulia

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.

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, Nicolás Varchausky, Eduardo Molinari, Tertulia

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.”

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, Nicolás Varchausky, Eduardo Molinari, Tertulia

If anyone has photos from that evening’s event, we’d be happy to post them here!

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551. on the radio with rick steves

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):

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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 as it was 140 years ago!

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