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Category: Operation

098. deep down

Since the purpose of family vaults was to house multiple generations, underground storage became a necessity. So how deep do vaults go? Several meters, sometimes with more space below than there is above.

If the mausoleum occupies a wide enough lot, there will be a staircase which leads down to lower levels of storage. Narrow lots may not have room for a staircase, but remove the metal grate & ladders accomplish the same goal. It makes for a tight fit in some cases:

Underground storage, Recoleta Cemetery

Underground storage, Recoleta Cemetery

Underground storage, Recoleta Cemetery

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092. juan alleno ◊

David Alleno, Recoleta Cemetery

Although this skinny, narrow mausoleum doesn’t stand out, an urban legend lurks inside. Peek through the door to find the sculpture of David Alleno—caretaker in Recoleta Cemetery from 1881 to 1910.

Like the caretakers of today, David had a certain sector which he maintained & apparently became obsessed over where his final resting place would be. Members of the Alleno family claim that David’s brother, Juan, had already purchased this plot for his family… perhaps that inspired David to be buried in Recoleta Cemetery as well. After saving over a lifetime, he was able to have a sculpture made of himself at work, complete with keys, broom & watering can:

David Alleno, Recoleta Cemetery

David Alleno, Recoleta Cemetery

Urban legend claims that when the sculpture arrived from Italy & was placed in the tomb, David was so eager to complete the project that he went home & committed suicide… knowing that he would soon rest in peace here. Whether the motive is true or not, David Alleno is now locked in with the elite residents of Recoleta Cemetery:

David Alleno, Recoleta Cemetery

Update (07 Nov 2010): Thanks to an investigation by Guada Aballe, we know a few more facts about the life of David Alleno… & she found photos too! One of the best resources for early 20th century Buenos Aires history is Caras & Caretas, a local magazine with political & social commentary. In the 10 Apr 1909 edition, Recoleta Cemetery workers were concerned about a change in administration. Various caretakers were photographed & David Alleno appeared in the article:

David Alleno, Recoleta Cemetery

David Alleno, Recoleta Cemetery

David Alleno spent 28 years working at Recoleta Cemetery & according to his death certificate—also amazingly uncovered by Guada—he passed away on 31 Aug 1915. The cause of death is listed as “trauma & cerebral contusion.” Of course whether or not the head injury was self-inflicted does not appear on the death certificate. But we’re one step closer to uncovering the truth behind the urban legend. Thanks, Guada!!

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087. map development 2

A few months later in November 2003, the hand-drawn map had been replaced with a more professional version. 89 locations (4 more than the first map) were marked to visit:

2003 gobBsAs map, Recoleta Cemetery

By either being lucky or a regular enough visitor, one day I was given a free handout which was a tri-fold reproduction of the map at the entrance gate:

2003 gobBsAs map, Recoleta Cemetery

Initially pleased at having a free guide to the cemetery, the design was remarkably amateur… for example, the map had been scanned at a very low resolution & enlarged. Pixels were glaringly obvious & angles were badly rendered. Note that there are two sets of three photos each on the map. The two sets are exactly the same. Could they not come up with six original photos for the brochure?

Design issues aside, the map turned out to be less than useful. In the pic below, what spot does #31 belong to? On the map it overlaps three squares, but in reality some of those blocks are subdivided. It took a bit of work to use the free handout:

2003 gobBsAs map, Recoleta Cemetery

A brief history was poorly translated on the back of the pamphlet. Read for yourself:

2003 gobBsAs map, Recoleta Cemetery

Don’t get me wrong… I’m not trying to slam the city government’s efforts. The problem is that at the same time they were producing wonderfully designed brochures to promote other areas of development within the city. Cutting-edge design & attention to detail was what I’d come to expect. So for the most-visited tourist site in Buenos Aires, I expected something much better than what was produced.

Only a few months before this map was issued, I began my walking tours in Buenos Aires. One of the walks offered was of the Recoleta neighborhood, & we ended with a quick stroll through the cemetery. I wasn’t sure if the tours would be successful, but I was certain that Recoleta Cemetery could be better promoted.

Read the complete story in the following posts titled “map development”: Part 1, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6 & Part 7. Good news! The PDF guidebook is now available.

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082. recent restoration ◊

If you notice scaffolding surrounding a tomb or mausoleum in Recoleta Cemetery, don’t worry. It’s not a demolition project.

I plan on donating 10% of map profits to the Asociación Amigos del Cementerio de Recoleta in order to help a good cause. Since 2002, the Friends’ Association has coordinated the restoration of the tombs of historically important figures. Most sculptures & monuments are generally around 100 years old so pollution, climate change, & invasion by plants & microorganisms can do a lot of damage over time. Also, plots are normally purchased for eternity so if a family leaves Argentina, has no descendants, moves their family to another cemetery, or does not pay the monthly maintenance fee, the mausoleum slowly decays over time.

From stop #6 in our PDF guide, three completed restoration projects can be seen. The first is a General José María Pirán whose bust decorates his vault:

José Pirán, Recoleta Cemetery

The large, unfinished column houses the remains of the adopted son of one of Argentina’s most beloved presidents, Domingo Faustino Sarmiento. His son, Dominguito, was buried here after being killed in the war with Paraguay:

Dominguito Sarmiento, Recoleta Cemetery

An obelisk crowned with an angel is popularly known as the Cenotaph of the Three Friends. A cenotaph means that this is just a memorial & no remains are buried here. Evidently these three were such good friends that their loved ones wanted to remember them as a trio. You can see a plaque as well as a symbol of what each man did as you walk around. Alberto Viola was a prolific writer & politician (with books). Adolfo Mitre was son of President Bartolomé Mitre & a poet (hence the lyre). Benigno Lugones was a writer for La Nación newspaper (which is his symbol). Oddly enough all three died within a year of each other:

Cenotaph, 3 friends, Recoleta Cemetery

Cenotaph, 3 friends, Recoleta Cemetery

In the long run, ADACRE never responded to my offer of donating 10% of map profits. Basically I put that cash into maintaining this blog, but it would have been nice to make a contribution.

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075. lázaro costa

Wandering around taking photos inside the cemetery, I stumbled upon a small sticker on the side of one vault:

Lazaro Costa sticker, Recoleta Cemetery

I recognized the name & logo because I live only two blocks from this funeral parlor. I may like Recoleta Cemetery, but I’m not morbid enough to suggest visiting a funeral parlor on the corner of Santa Fe & Callao:

Lazaro Costa, Buenos Aires

But at least go to the intersection to see the building where Lázaro Costa is the flagship store:

Mario Palanti, Santa Fe & Callao

This spectacular high rise was built by Italian architect Mario Palanti, famous for the Palacio Barolo… but this is equally fascinating. Sloped rooftops, rounded balconies & oddly-shaped domes are Palanti’s trademark. At any time of year, sunset is the best time to photograph this luxury apartment building:

Mario Palanti, Santa Fe & Callao

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064. niches

Niches, Recoleta Cemetery

Three groups of niches can be found against the walls of Recoleta Cemetery. Closest to the entrance, group #1 is the fanciest of them all. It consists of a small, Art Deco sanctuary with two gates & no public access. Built by architect Bruno O. Fritzsche in the late 1920s for a cost of 180,000 pesos, these niches were part of a city-wide project to increase the number of burial spaces available in Buenos Aires. All sketches courtesy of Historia Digital:

Recoleta Cemetery, niches, Bruno O. Fritzsche

Decoration consists of pairs of inverted torches & a couple phrases in Latin. One reads Aequo pulsat pede which is taken from the odes of Horace. The full sentence Pallida mors aequo pulsat pede pauperum tabernas regumque turres translates to “Pale Death with impartial step knocks at poor men’s hovels and princes’ citadels.” In other words, death doesn’t discriminate based on wealth or status… we’re all equal:

Aequo pulsat pede, Recoleta Cemetery

Another bit of wisdom from Horace is over the second gate. Non omnis moriar means “I shall not wholly die.” The memory of a loved one never truly fades away:

Non omnis moriar, Recoleta Cemetery

Peeking inside, a staircase leads to more niches underground & still more Latin. But this time it’s from the Book of Job 8:9… Our days upon Earth are but a shadow:

Job 8:9, Recoleta Cemetery

Group #2 is in desperate need of repair. Most of the lower covers have broken over time leaving caskets exposed. Makeshift covers of sheet metal keep the elements at bay until restoration work can begin. A corner addition in the 1920s (also by Fritzsche) means there’s even more room below ground:

Niches, Recoleta Cemetery

Recoleta Cemetery, niches, Bruno O. Fritzsche

Group #3 is the largest & occupies a big portion of the south wall. Whereas the other two groups place caskets lengthwise, this one can fit many more by inserting caskets the opposite direction:

Niches, Recoleta Cemetery

When a wall of niches is this tall, ladders can’t be used by caretakers to access the upper rows. So how to they get those heavy caskets to the top? The answer is right here… A chain pulley on wheels. It must take a lot of effort since the pulley is manually operated, but no one said being a caretaker was easy:

Pulley, Recoleta Cemetery

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