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Category: Operation

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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062. map development 1

During my first visit to Buenos Aires in March 2000, I was like every newbie in town. I wanted to see where Eva Perón was buried… assured that seeing her tomb would spark some kind of epiphany. The only problem was that there was no map to guide me. I could have asked anyone, but I challenged myself to find Evita on my own. It took me FOUR visits to the cemetery until I finally stumbled upon the site. At least I got a good overview of the cemetery while waiting that discovery.

After moving to Buenos Aires at the end of 2000, I rarely visited the cemetery. I didn’t know what to make of it, nor did I really understand why it’s so important. In July 2003 I noticed a map had finally been posted at the entrance gate. Hand-drawn with 85 spots to visit, it was hardly impressive or practical. But it was better than nothing:

July 2003 map, Recoleta Cemetery

July 2003 map, Recoleta Cemetery

I was beginning to realize that something had to be done…

Read the complete story in the following posts titled “map development”: Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6 & Part 7. Good news! The PDF guidebook is now available.

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055. respect

Exterior signage, Recoleta Cemetery

Several of these signs with a late 80s/early 90s look are placed on the exterior brick wall at regular intervals:

“Here rest those who came before us in the journey of life. It is a place of respect that should be respected. Do not post bills or write inscriptions.”

It’s all about respect.

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052. faja de clausura

Although not common, a few mausoleums are taped shut with a very official looking white sticker which boldly states, “faja de clausura.”

Faja de clausura, Recoleta Cemetery

Faja de clausura, Recoleta Cemetery

Faja de clausura, Recoleta Cemetery

Structures built in Recoleta Cemetery are considered private property which means the city government has little recourse if a family stops paying the monthly maintenance fee. But the fact that tombs are private property has an interesting twist. If a family comes on difficult financial times, the Policía Federal can seize mausoleums for payment of unresolved debt or in cases of bankruptcy. That’s why the police logo appears on the white strip:

Policia Federal logo, Argentina

Buying a mausoleum at auction may seem like an odd thing to do, but it’s probably the easiest way to get into Recoleta Cemetery. The saddest example of this I’ve seen lately is the mega-mausoleum for the Lacroze family… trolley founders & previous owners of the subway’s B Line. Hopefully the family or the national government will be able to maintain an important part of Buenos Aires history.

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027. ventilation

Although Recoleta Cemetery doesn’t fit into the standard, macabre mold—on the contrary, it’s usually calm, relaxing & peaceful no matter how many tourists are packed inside—it’s still a cemetery. Some might believe that the spirit lives forever, but the body certainly doesn’t. Keep in mind that Recoleta Cemetery is a mix of tombs & mausoleums… enclosed structures with caskets inside. Now imagine the interior of your favorite tomb during the long, hot summers in Buenos Aires. It isn’t pretty.

Fortunately, mausoleums come equipped with ingenious & decorative types of ventilation. The most common are glass panels on the rooftop with a gap that allows air to circulate freely. But due to their fragile nature, ceiling vents are usually the first to show signs of decay. Panels fall out over time & go crashing into the interior. Hailstorms wreak havoc. But if panels are decorated or colored, they add a very special touch:

Ventilation, Recoleta Cemetery

Ventilation, Recoleta Cemetery

Ventilation, Recoleta Cemetery

Ventilation, Recoleta Cemetery

Ventilation, Recoleta Cemetery

Occasionally the upper part of domes will have a subtle grill incorporated:

Ventilation, Recoleta Cemetery

Modern options break the architectural harmony of the place, but no one seems to mind as they spin in the breeze:

Ventilation, Recoleta Cemetery

The most creative vent attaches solar cells on the exterior to power the fan inside:

Ventilation, Recoleta Cemetery

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