Imagine our surprise when flying Delta to Madrid & finding a mention of our website in this month’s issue of Delta Sky magazine! I’m sure my neighboring passengers thought, why is this guy taking photos of the in-flight magazine?? This is why:
The show must go on… even if you aren’t around to see it. Important funeral homes like Lazaro Costa offered rental carriages for grand processions to Recoleta Cemetery. The above photo appeared as an advertisement in the society magazine “Caras & Caretas” with the following text:
For 200 pesos, a good funeral service with four horses & a footman, including an imitation mahogany coffin, open casket service, liveried carriages, notices placed in newspapers, etc.
Although a friend sent me this photo & did not record the publication date, surely this is from the early 20th century. Assuming this could be from 1915, 200 pesos would be the equivalent of $83 USD, or $1,930 USD in today’s currency!
It’s nice to know that our years of research & coverage of Recoleta Cemetery have not gone unnoticed. We were recently contacted by the British newspaper The Guardian, expressing a desire to include this blog in a new project that they hope will be:
“a hub for fresh ideas, thoughtful discussion and brilliant writing about urban life and the future of cities around the world.”
Any chance to spread the word about Recoleta Cemetery is more than welcome. Their recommendations were published on 27 Jan 2014, & we are honored to be considered a leading voice on Buenos Aires. Gracias!
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.
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.
Hidden history among the tombs of Recoleta
On weekends, hundreds of tourists visit the necropolis to see where various figures in Argentine history rest in peace
Saturday, middle of the morning. Tourists line up. They are anxious because the guided tour is about to begin. A route through passageways, vaults & tombs. A walk through Argentine history via Recoleta Cemetery.
The scene repeats itself every week. According to official statistics from the city government, some 24,000 tourists visited the oldest necropolis in the city of Buenos Aires in 2008 alone.
Is it a fascination with death? Author María Rosa Lojo maintained: “Without doubt, death is the great mystery of our lives. Those figures found in tombstones, in tombs, represent us. They are our past but also our future.”
Recoleta Cemetery was the first public necropolis in the city of Buenos Aires. It was inaugurated with the name Northern Cemetery on November 17, 1822. One day later, the first people buried were a slave child, Juan Benito, and a woman named María Dolores Maciel.
Afterwards the cemetery in Flores was built in 1867 & another in Chacarita in 1871.
Guided visits consist of groups of 25-30 people, depending on the day & time. There are also organized school visits every week.
According to the city government webpage, cemetery plans were designed by the engineer Próspero Catelin, with the government reserving some plots for outstanding citizens of the nation. This act gave the cemetery its historical character.
But what is it that attracts Argentine & foreign tourists? What do visitors to the cemetery look for when they wander through its tombs & vaults?
“The founding history of the country, the first history, is found in the cemetery,” explained Carlos Francavilla, the necropolis director.
In the cemetery’s tombs & vaults lie historic figures of Argentina like Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, Bartolomé Mitre, Hipólito Yrigoyen, Juan Manuel de Rosas, Remedios de Escalada de San Martín, Eva Duarte de Perón y Raúl Alfonsín, whose burial last April 2nd, was witnessed by a multitude of moved people filling the cemetery.
Not only are there political personalities buried in Recoleta Cemetery, but also Nobel Prize winner Luis Federico Leloir, boxer Luis Angel [Firpo], writers José Hernández, Miguel Cané & Marcos Sastre. Also there is a vault where María Marta García Belsunce lies, assassinated in October 2002 in her country house in Carmel.
A YouTube video originally appeared here, but it is no longer on the server.
There is one vault which attracts Argentine tourists & foreigners like a magnet, especially everyone who comes from Europe. It is the vault of Evita.
“The tourist has a special interest in Evita’s vault. She is a very internationally recognized character, very popular. There are tourists who know many details of Eva Duarte’s life, mainly due to the musical,” claimed Francavilla.
The current area [of the cemetery] is 5.5 hectares & its limits are the streets of Junín, Quintana, Vicente López & Azcuénaga. Visits are not only popular to discover those who are buried inside. It is an attraction for its architecture, expressed in distinct sculptural styles. Some 70 vaults were declared National Historic Monuments.
“The cemetery’s sculptural richness gets the tourist’s attention, so much so that they compare it with other important necropolises in the world such as the Père-Lachaise Cemetery in Paris or the Italian necropolis of Staglieno in Genoa,” added Francavilla.
Currently, according to official information, Recoleta Cemetery does not have lot space available. Vaults were granted for eternity.
The city’s Ministry of Public Space said: “In this moment we are currently in the process of vacating a gallery of niches which were rented for 95 years. All paperwork & admin procedures for those niches which have been abandoned or unclaimed is complete. This way, the city will once again offer niches in its oldest cemetery.”
According to the rate table, 48 pesos per square meter are charged for vault maintenance per year. For enlargement of vaults, mandatory alignment with the cemetery’s layout, acquistion of vacant spaces or permission to construct underneath walkways, the charge is 84 pesos per square meter per year.
End of visit. After wandering through pathways, discovering tombs & vaults, tourists are satisfied. They feel they know more about those who sparked their curiosity.
Credits: Soledad Aznarez, Pablo Cairo, Verónica Chiaravalli, Pablo De Rosa Barlaro, Gabriel Di Nicola & Jorge Rosales
Nevermind the fact that the article says nothing new, but errors are unforgivable. Especially with such a large group working on a single piece. Firpo’s last name was not included (!) & the cemetery in Flores was not the second built in the city… Flores was incorporated into Buenos Aires in 1888, after the Cementerio del Sur & Chacarita cemetery.
Top photo (1 of 10) credited to Pablo De Rosa Barlaro. Bold & italics not in original article.
Recoleta Cemetery turns up in the most unexpected places. Marcelo discovered a few comic books which use Buenos Aires as the setting, & Wonder Woman #187 from February 2003 highlights the cemetery on pages 13-15.
It’s nice to see artists render the city correctly… Wonder Woman’s invisible jet is blown up over Avenida 9 de Julio, fights take place in Plaza de Mayo, Retiro train station is wiped out & Wonder Woman protects both porteños & tourists from a battle in Recoleta Cemetery: