While cataloging photos from last year, I ran across an important event that went unposted. Repairs were underway to the exterior brick wall in February 2010 when heavy rainfall damaged the entrance gate. Somehow that story took precedence. But the structure of the perimeter wall had become a haven for pigeons & badly needed repair. Workers went opening by opening, cleared each of debris & nests, & covered each in cement. The very top of the wall was also cemented.
Note: Patchwork cement filling which has been drawn to mimic the original brick layout was done prior to the repairs mentioned above. In fact, since my first visit to the cemetery in 2000 the wall has looked like this… difficult to say when that work was done.
But that’s not all they did. Instead of making nice new homes for pigeons like in the photo above, they covered each with mesh wire. Well done!
Finally, much of the interior portion of the wall was covered as well. The work looks professional, makes a visit to this particular section more pleasant & will hopefully protect the wall from the increasingly extreme climate of Buenos Aires. Some pigeons have returned since this work was performed… perhaps rows of spikes will have to be added at a later date to discourage nesting.
Typical for an election year, cultural offerings in Buenos Aires have increased over the past few weeks. Incumbent officials provide a few months of frenetic activity in an attempt to erase 3.5 years of neglect. Last night in conjunction with Earth Hour, the city sponsored “La Noche en Vela” (Candlelight Night) with different cultural activities across the city. Recoleta Cemetery participated with an announced video projection on the entrance gate beginning at 21:00. Ironically, entrance gate lights had been shut off to support Earth Hour but a multimedia show which undoubtedly used more electricity replaced them.
Although starting on time, someone had made a big PR mistake. Instead of projecting on the main gate, the show took place on a smaller service entrance. Much less engaging. In the beginning, various images of vaults displayed while an actor dressed as a caretaker paced back & forth ringing a bell. Eventually the caretaker character appeared in the video, opening the gate for spectators to look inside. More vault images raced by like a passing train while a women desperately tried to escape her inevitable death. As she laid to rest—accompanied by a cat—more still images were projected. Videos below are from various moments of the show:
Even though the tombs of Pedro Ferré & Luz María García Velloso were incorporated into the show, there was little attempt at historical narrative. The timing of the show seemed a bit off as well… certain parts went very fast while others seemed to last an eternity. Many of the crowd of approximately 500 people drifted in & out, commenting that they did not understand the purpose of the show. I think an effort to incorporate information about the cemetery’s history would have been more appropriate than the overly dramatic theater skit. While mildly entertaining, Candlelight Night at Recoleta Cemetery could have been much better.
Following the rain damage in February 2010, access to Recoleta Cemetery through the main entrance gate was restricted. Urgent repairs were necessary, & at the closing of this blog in March some restoration had begun. Returning 3.5 months later, the city government seems to have taken advantage of events to undertake a larger project.
A few details are available on an infopanel located outside. In the space of 45 days, the city will pay Naku Construcciones about 225,000 pesos (currently U$S 57,000) for restoration under the supervision of architect Santiago Jorge Bayazbakian. Of Armenian descent, Bayazbakian has done a number of works for the city under Macri’s administration. What’s unclear is how the final project will look. Sketches show day & night representations of the cemetery, but as it appeared before the staircase destruction in May 2010… no handicapped ramp to be found:
Covering the entire gate is the following text:
Aquí se encuentra el peristilo de acceso al Cementerio de la Recoleta, obra del arquitecto Juan Buschiazzo. La construcción del peristilo le fue encomendada en 1880 por el primer Intendente de la ciudad de Buenos Aires, Torcuato de Alvear, en el marco de la remodelación integral del Cementerio. Consiste en un pórtico de entrada con doble hilera de columnas dóricas y escalones de mármol de Carrara blanco. Fue declarado Monumento Histórico Nacional por Decreto 1.289/07. La obra actual busca readecuar el acceso al peristilo del Cementerio de la Recoleta, recuperando su diseño y características al momento de ser declarado Monumento Histórico, resguardando y poniendo en valor este destacado icono del Cementerio y de la ciudad.
Here can be found the peristyle entrance of Recoleta Cemetery, the work of architect Juan Buschiazzo. The peristyle’s construction was commissioned in 1880 by the first mayor of the city of Buenos Aires, Torcuato de Alvear, as part of a remodel of the entire cemetery. It consists of an entrance gate with double rows of Doric columns & white Carrara marble staircases. It was declared a National Historic Monument by Decree 1,289/07. Current works seek to refurbish the peristyle entrance, recovering its design & characteristics at the moment it was declared a historical monument, saving & recognizing this well-known icon of the cemetery & of the city.
It is interesting how the text alludes to the staircase destruction for those in the know & how it provides a cryptic message for those who don’t. There is no mention of rain damage. If the staircase is to be replaced, where will the marble come from? Seems like such a large project would take more than 45 days.
Given current works, the main entrance has been under construction/destruction for over one year:
Until completion of the project, the only access to Recoleta Cemetery is via a service entrance to the left of the main gate:
Update (07 Nov 2010): Works on the entrance gate appear to be almost complete. New bathrooms are installed, but the project has taken considerably longer than the original plan. Hopefully the main entrance will be open by the end of the year:
Update (29 Nov 2010): Scaffolding has been removed, the paint has dried, office space has been added & new restrooms have been installed. But most impressive is that the marble staircase of the entrance gate has been restored. Yea! No more handicapped access ramps & the symbols above are no longer the sickeningly sweet, Sevilla-inspired ochre yellow. They now have a mottled, aged effect which looks quite nice. The gate should be open to the public soon:
For a first-hand look at what archaeologists uncovered during the entire process, Daniel Schávelzon & his team wrote this article: “El pórtico central del cementerio de la Recoleta: estudio de su escalinata frontal”. Enjoy!
Above is a composite photo taken today requesting that anyone entering the cemetery kindly refrain from photographing caskets.
Not sure why anyone would care… part of the benefit of being laid to rest in Recoleta Cemetery is that all visitors can take a peek inside the family vault. No one seemed to be monitoring but if someone has more info about this recent regulation, I would gladly add it to this post.
Over the next couple weeks, there will be a bit of new content added here since big changes taking place at the cemetery these days… maybe even a new bio! How exciting :)
All good things must come to an end, & after several years of researching Recoleta Cemetery it’s time to concentrate to other projects.
We will continue to post as time permits but nothing as regular as our standard 3 posts/week. The prolonged pause is necessary in order to develop additional walking tours around Buenos Aires… & the rest of the world. Exciting stuff! Also, another year of full-time work in Europe means I will be away from Buenos Aires for most of this year.
By way of a summary, here are a few interesting stats:
First post: 03 Oct 2007
Total # of posts: 400
Total word count: almost 82,000 or about the size of a small novel
Readership: over 3,000 unique visitors per month, about 180-200 per day. Amazing for a blog about a cemetery!
Most comments: Liliana Crociati de Szaszak
Total number of photos posted: almost 1,200
Number of bilingual posts: currently 155, or 39%. Unfortunately Spanish text is not available at the moment, but we’re working on bringing it back!
Don’t worry, we’re not going anywhere; this blog will remain online. Since so little information in English exists about Recoleta Cemetery, this should remain a valuable resource for the future. Much work is left to be done to make AfterLife 100% bilingual… it will come eventually. Purchasing the PDF guide will help maintain this site for everyone.
Demystifying urban legends is something Marcelo & I have worked hard to accomplish. Recoleta Cemetery—the most visited site in Buenos Aires—has much more value than those few wild & crazy stories. As the last paragraph of the PDF guidebook states:
… in spite of all the money spent to be immortalized forever, it is difficult to ignore the irony that so many prominent families have fallen on hard times. Argentina today is not the country those families envisioned, whatever their personal ideology. Several of the same issues they tried to resolve still exist today for a different generation. Recoleta Cemetery should therefore offer guidance & hope for the future. What better place to be inspired by beauty, honor past achievements & learn from previous mistakes?