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475. “destinos” television series

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, Destinos series

Who else learned Spanish by watching the tv series “Destinos” besides me? There must be a few people who remember the scene filmed inside Recoleta Cemetery.

Produced in 1992, 52 30-minute episodes of “Destinos” taught viewers Spanish grammar & conversation in the format of a telenovela/soap opera. Lawyer Raquel Rodríguez is hired by Don Fernando to uncover a family mystery. As Raquel seeks clues in Spain, Argentina, Puerto Rico & México, the series does a good job of exposing learners not only to fantastic scenery but also region-specific variants of the language.

In Episode 12, Raquel travels to Buenos Aires to meet with Arturo. At 16:50, he takes Raquel to Recoleta Cemetery & reveals more about his family’s past. Dedication plaques shown in the episode are only props,& the exact location of filming was easy to find since there are only four diagonal walkways in the cemetery… looks pretty much the same today, except for the new sidewalk tiles placed in 2003:

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Destinos series

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires

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474. touchscreen map

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, touch screen

Recoleta Cemetery can now boast some of the latest technology: a touchscreen monitor with an electronic map & information about more than 200 of its most important residents. Listings are categorized mainly by occupation: President, lawyer, engineer/architect, politician, military, etc. A search function also allows users to find tombs by typing a family name. Once an entry is selected, a photo gallery & biography are displayed. Cool.

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, touch screen

Tapping the button ¿Cómo llegar? displays a pop-up window containing a complete map of the cemetery. As if that wasn’t snazzy enough, a green arrow flashes to show the tomb location. Colored sections on the map correspond to official divisions, & all red numbers have information available… no wonder this took a year to put together!

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, touch screen

A general information section has details about guided visits plus other services, a historic background & even a bibliography. All text is available in both English & Spanish… definitely a plus for visitors. Translations could be better but all things considered, this is a great improvement over the previous lack of information in English. As an example, take a moment to read the text for the Herlitzka family vault:

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, touch screen

Unless already familiar with the cemetery—very unlikely for the majority of people who visit—the touchscreen is more useful on the way out rather than when first entering. No print copy is provided from the search, so first-time visitors would have trouble remembering the location of any tomb not on a main walkway. Of course, they could purchase a map then spend some time marking tombs of interest. But a better way to take advantage of this resource would be to search for tombs you’ve already seen. Scroll through your digital photos, then search for info.

I know from experience how difficult it is to put together a useful guide to Recoleta Cemetery. It’s so dense with tons of history & art packed inside… any attempt at organization is overwhelming. But this is a good complement to the most visited attraction in Buenos Aires.

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472. chicago tribune, 09 jul 2012

It’s been awhile since an article about Recoleta Cemetery has been published in a US newspaper… tourism to Buenos Aires isn’t what it used to be. Not sure exactly who picked up the story, but it was run in July in the Miami Herald & in the Chicago Tribune:

Surprises in the Buenos Aires’ Recoleta Cemetery
by Marjie Lambert

Our visit to Recoleta Cemetery was going to be short. We were going to find Eva Duarte Peron’s tomb and leave. We were not admirers, just curious U.S. tourists. But before what turned out to be a long visit had ended, we had been drawn in like so many others.

With its elaborate architecture representing styles from Art Deco and Art Nouveau to Baroque and Neo-Gothic – plus its free admission – the cemetery is a popular attraction, drawing more than half a million people a year. One of the city’s biggest open-air arts and crafts markets sets up just outside the gates. By late afternoon, street musicians perform, and vendors sell snacks by the white-columned entrance.

At least 18 Argentine presidents are buried among the 4,691 crypts, as are hundreds of other politicians, military leaders, writers, actors, athletes and others once prominent in Argentine society. Yet the mausoleum where Evita is entombed is by far the most popular site on the 14-acre grounds, which is still an active cemetery. Sixty years after her death, people – many, like my friend and me, who hadn’t even been born yet when she died – still bring flowers to lay at the door of the modest Duarte family mausoleum.

The former first lady was a charismatic figure in her lifetime. In death, part of the mystique is the 24-year journey that her corpse took before arriving here. Her body was moved around Argentina the first few years after her death in 1952; then after her husband, Juan Peron, was overthrown as president, the military confiscated it and secretly sent it to be buried in Italy under a false name. Many years later, it was returned to Juan Peron, who by then was in exile in Madrid. He returned it to Argentina before his own death in 1974. Finally, in 1976, she was buried in a concrete vault 27 feet underground beneath layers of steel, in the mausoleum of her father’s family at Recoleta. Juan Peron is buried in another cemetery.

I had no interest in the rest of the cemetery. But that was before I stepped between the Greek columns at the entrance to el Cementerio de Recoleta, before I saw the elaborate mausoleums laid out in a neat grid, like miniature apartment buildings on tiny streets.

I was captivated. I had never been in a cemetery with mausoleums like these before, had never seen rows and rows of these narrow miniature stone buildings, some four or five stories tall, each different, topped with gilded domes or obelisks or steeples that looked like huge sorcerers’ hats, marked by ornate carvings and statuary, plaques, laurel wreaths fashioned from bronze, guarded by angels or birds with enormous wing spans. There were statues of nymphs, cherubs, babies, generals in uniforms and a bare-chested boxer in his robe.

We knew from looking at the big map by the entrance to the cemetery that the Duarte mausoleum was on the left side, about a third of the way back. But we gravitated to the wide “street” that ran up the center, where the oldest and most ostentatious mausoleums were. We wandered from one to the next, reading family names and recognizing some from Buenos Aires landmarks and street signs, becoming increasingly absorbed.

Here were, in addition to the many Argentine politicians and generals, the tombs of actress Zully Morena; poet Oliverio Girondo; Victoria Ocampo, a writer and the first woman admitted to the Argentine Academy of Letters; Luis Federico Leloir, Nobel-winning biochemist; and Armando Bo, actor and film director. A life-size replica of boxer Luis “Firpo” Angel, “the wild bull of the Pampas,” in his robe, stands outside his tomb.

We kept wandering and gaping, turning down alleys that were perfectly perpendicular to the main aisle, always knowing approximately where we were in relation to the Duarte mausoleum.

We marveled at mausoleums of dull concrete, white marble and shiny black granite, looked in through glass doors webbed with fancy ironwork, saw altars of fine Italian marble. Then, as we talked about the grandeur of the architecture and sculpture, we would come across broken glass or doors barely held together by rusted padlocks and see coffins strung with cobwebs and dusty silk flowers, a reminder that this was a place of death.

The further we got from the entrance, the fewer people we encountered. We barely noticed, but the back boundaries of the cemetery were not squared off, and the alleys were increasingly skewed. Finally we realized that we could no longer tell east from south.

The mausoleums rose on either side of us, creating canyons just high enough to block our view of landmarks. Around us was silence; we were no longer within earshot of the other visitors. We were lost in el cementerio.

I had assumed that we could find Evita’s tomb without even looking at a map, that we would recognize it by the presence of a crowd, much like the way a sudden traffic jam in Yellowstone National Park tells you where someone has spotted a bear, or at least a moose. We hadn’t counted on the canyon effect.

Finally we came upon a wide cross street and spotted people milling about, some distance away. We joined the small crowd of people, determined that they were in line to visit Evita’s tomb down a narrow side street, and went to the back of the queue. One man there held back. “You’re not in line?” I asked. He said he was waiting for his wife. “You see one tomb, you’ve seen them all,” he answered.

About 30 people who apparently disagreed with him were ahead of us, but the line moved quickly. At one point, two people squeezed past us, going to the front of the line. A woman’s Spanish-accented English cut through the crowd noise: “We are all waiting in line here.” The two people looked around, shrugged, and walked back the way they came.

The Duarte mausoleum was modest compared to many others. Fashioned in Art Deco style, the crypt had no sculptures, but a bronze door elaborately crafted with flowers, a large cross and ornate plaques on both sides. A few carnations and roses, wilted by now, had been stuck in the door or laid at its base.

None of the people in this group lingered long. They paused for a few seconds, perhaps took a photo, and moved on. Having turned our in-and-out visit to Evita’s tomb into a 2-hour exploration of architecture, sculpture and Argentine history – and having once again gotten our bearings in the “city of the dead” – so did we.

GOING TO RECOLETA CEMETERY

Recoleta Cemetery, Calle Junan 1790, at Plaza Francesa, is open daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is free.

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Links are not original to the article… added them in case someone wants more info. A couple of corrections: Juan Perón did not bring Eva back to Argentina. That was left to Isabel. And Eva’s tomb was built after Art Deco… but that’s no big deal. However, it’s Plaza “Francia,” the cemetery opens at 07:00 & the street name is Junín.

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470. vergottini plaque

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Julio Vergottini plaque

While sculptor Julio César Vergottini has several important works in Chacarita—like statues of tango legend Celedonio Flores & of poetess Alfonsina Storni—his works are rare in Recoleta Cemetery.

One possible reason Vergottini is not so present in Recoleta could be that his typical clients were not the upper-class families who had works of art commissioned in Europe. This plaque decorates the Durañona family vault, but they seem like the typical Recoleta Cemetery family. Hailing from San Antonio de Areco, Francisco Durañona y Vedia is currently the head of the National Insurance Board… appointed by CFK herself. Perhaps the family just liked Vergottini’s work.

Vergottini lived in a mini-castle on the banks of the contaminated Riachuelo River in the barrio of Barracas, & most of his public works are in the same area. Two relief panels decorate the colorful, ultra-touristy Caminito in La Boca. Vergottini won first prize to build a monument incorporating the national flag. His work, titled “Monumento al Izamiento de la Bandera” or “Monument to Hoisting the Flag” was unveiled in Plaza Colombia in Barracas in 1940. But don’t bother to look for his statues now. When the city government refit Plaza Colombia in 2010, they removed them from the base of the flagpole. Supposedly they are being kept in a warehouse until money is available for their restoration… let’s hope they reappear sometime soon!

Buenos Aires, Barracas, Vergottini house, Riachuelo

Buenos Aires, La Boca, Caminito, La Sirga, Vergottini

Update (22 Jun 2012): The Vergottini statues have been found! And of course they are in a deplorable state. Someone recently took a photo of the statues discarded in a Department of Monuments & Artworks parking lot in Parque 3 de Febrero (Palermo). More info here in Spanish… such an embarrassment for the city government:

Buenos Aires, Vergottini, Plaza Colombia sculptures

Last photo courtesy of Proteger Barracas.

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