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Category: History

564. the oldest?

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, Witcomb Collection

Visitors to Recoleta Cemetery often ask questions at each end of the spectrum. Who was the first person buried there? Early records list two on opening day: Juan Benito (a child of freed slaves) & María Dolores Maciel. Who was the last? Let’s check the newspapers! How much does the most expensive mausoleum cost? No way to know for certain since each is private property. What is the oldest tomb still standing? Hmmmm… that’s tricky. Here’s our best guess.

Recoleta Cemetery looked very different from its current appearance when it first opened in 1822. As the cemetery grew in status, its layout changed from grassy plots with simple tombstones to one of ornate mausoleums & vaults. Photos from the Witcomb Collection (below) show this process in progress around 1890, & a few ordinary tombstones even survive today.

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, Witcomb Collection
Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, Witcomb Collection

But with resale & modifications occuring over almost 200 years, few records are kept about the constructions on each plot. After all, each is private property so the cemetery has no obligation to record that kind of information. Many sources cite Remedios de Escalada —wife of founding father General José de San Martín— as having the oldest remaining plot since she passed away in 1823. However, a little exploration reveals another grave hidden in a corner not far from the entrance gate:

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Anchorena, oldest
Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Anchorena, oldest

Dª Romana Josefa
López de Anchorena
y
sus cuatros nietas
parbulas. Romana.
Nicolasa. Estanislana.
y
Martina Anchorena.
Falleció la primera
de 30 de octubre
de 1822.
D.P.H.M.N.A.

The Anchorena family dates back to Argentina’s days under Spanish rule. Born in Pamplona, Juan Esteban de Anchorena arrived in Buenos Aires in 1768. He married Romana Josefa de Anaya, moved up in social rank & began buying land. By the early 20th century, the Anchorena name became synonymous with big money & power, coining a popular phrase: “wealthier than an Anchorena.” They even managed to marry into European royalty, but it all started with Romana Josefa who was buried here in 1822… the same year Recoleta Cemetery opened.

While a few other relatives are buried along with Romana Josefa, the Anchorenas never had a single, dedicated family mausoleum. Other Anchorena descendants can be found scattered throughout Recoleta Cemetery, but the honor of oldest mausoleum goes to the Bustillo family (1823).

That’s our best guess for now… until other evidence comes along!

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555. argentina history time line

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, Argentina, time line, history

Dates of important historical events can be difficult to put into context, as are the lives of everyone profiled in this blog… especially when names are foreign & important periods are mentioned only in passing. Covering the first 200 years, this time line of Argentina’s history should enhance your visit to Recoleta Cemetery. Broad periods are listed above while specific events are mentioned below. Although not intended to be 100% comprehensive, we’ll likely add events from time to time.

If you purchase a PDF guide, the time line comes included as an appendix on the last page. But if you are just wandering on your own, the full version of the time line is available by clicking on the image above… free of charge. Please do not use this time line for commercial purposes or for derivative works.

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let us show you around…

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 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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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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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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527. historic photo 10

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Arturo W. Boote

Photo by Arturo W. Boote, exact date unknown but sometime around the end of the 19th century. From the angle, this photo was likely taken from the adjacent Iglesia de Pilar, perhaps from the bell tower.

Samuel Boote (1844-1921) y Arturo Woods Boote (1861-1936) were brothers, both first generation Argentines of a large English immigrant family. Raised on ranches in the Provincia de Buenos Aires, they eventually moved to the capital & became the most famous photographers of the 1880s. A decade later they had traveled through much of Argentina, leaving a valuable photographic record for us today. By 1900 both brothers left the photography business to pursue other ventures, but at least they left a reminder of what they experienced at Recoleta Cemetery over 100 years ago.

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