Cementario de La Recoleta

Named as the number one must-see site in Buenos Aires in probably every guidebook, the Recoleta Cemetery’s reputation is more than well-deserved. Located in the Recoleta neighborhood, the cemetery contains the mausoleums of Argentine presidents, Nobel Prize winners, and other notables as well as well-heeled members of Buenos Aires society. The cemetery’s most famous resident is Eva Perón, the second wife of former President Juan Perón.

As we approached the cemetery we could see the roofs and domes of mausoleums peeking over the top of the high brick wall that surrounds the cemetery. It felt almost like walking up to an attraction in Disney World – we could tell there was something fabulous inside but were only being offered a small tease. We couldn’t wait to get inside to see more.

Looking down one of the many lanes that run through the cemetery. Domes were a popular architectural motif on many of the older mausoleums. (If you look closely you can see that the door has fallen off one of the crypts and the coffin is now open to the elements.)

Angels came in all designs, sizes and moods.

The modern mausoleums, with their more austere architecture and dark marble, were easy to pick out from the more ornate older tombs.

This mausoleum had its own little fenced yard.

After passing through the main gate I had to stop and catch my breath. It was like entering a fabulous but macabre city, with each street offering an array of beautiful, interesting or weird sites to explore. The mausoleums ranged in size from tiny to immense, from very old to modern, from simple to highly ornate. Some were adorned with fabulous sculpture, others were more plain. It was easy to date some of the mausoleums by their architecture: an Art Nouveau door signified the building was erected around the turn of the 19th century, and Art Deco design meant the tomb was erected later, sometime in the 1930s. Brett’s first impression was that it looked like the cemeteries in New Orleans, but by the time we left his comment was, “New Orleans is nothing like this!”

One of the oldest mausoleums in the cemetery is showing its age and wear.

Another old and decaying but still beautiful building.

Many of the mausoleums wore cobwebs both inside and out.

Most of the graves were somewhat well maintained, but many were not, and it was fascinating to observe the decay happening throughout the cemetery. Sometimes the outer building was doing well, but the inside was crumbling. Other times the whole edifice, inside and out, was falling apart. Some of the mausoleums were on one level, with coffins displayed on shelves, but many had a stairwell heading underground, where the coffins rested while upstairs contained an altar or other simple decoration. Apparently built on a hillside, the top of the back wall of the cemetery stands nearly three stories above the street below.

The Duarte family mausoleum, where Eva Peron (Evita) is interred. The mausoleum itself is fairly unostentatious, but is the most visited in the cemetery. A few people left fresh flowers the day we visited.

The most famous and most visited grave in the cemetery is the Duarte family mausoleum, where Eva Perón’s (Evita) is buried. Still viewed by many Argentinians as practically a saint, her mausoleum is adorned with flowers, rosaries and other ornaments brought by her admirers, and there is almost always a small crowd there. The story of her death and what followed is both sad and weird. Only 33 years old, she suffered greatly before she died of cervical cancer in 1952.

This man was imposing even if we had no idea who he was.

A life-size bronze statue stunning in its simplicity. The woman looked as if she could be a saint.

The largest statue in the cemetery, bronze or otherwise, I believe. I’m 65″ tall, and I barely came up to her knees. The detail on the sculpture was exquisite – it must have cost a small fortune to have it made.

The wife only merited a bust, and was placed on the back of this family mausoleum, while . . .

. . . her husband got a full-figure seated statue on the front of their building. But note the brooding angel in the back of the mausoleum who appears to be hovering over both of them. She actually sits atop the tomb behind theirs.

It is said that it costs more to die here than to live in Buenos Aires, and the Recoleta Cemetery is a testament to that expression. The cost of some of the mausoleums and their accompanying sculptures had to be in the millions, and that’s on top of the cost of space inside the cemetery. No matter, it was an extremely fascinating place to visit even though we had no idea who any of its residents were (other than Eva Perón).

Finally, this mausoleum, located on a corner, was both the creepiest and the saddest to me. The front door was locked tight with a padlock and chain, but the large side window had gone missing so everyone could peer right in. The four coffins appear to be trying to burst off their shelves, and the man’s bust was sitting on the floor with the most forlorn expression of all the statues in the cemetery. It was obvious no one had cared for the mausoleum for years, and I couldn’t find a family name on the tomb.

12 thoughts on “Cementario de La Recoleta

  1. Laurel Hill says:

    I love walking through cemeteries, possibly because my parents had a child die before me, and we spent a fair amount of time in the cemetery grooming the grave in the warm seasons. When my paternal grandmother was alive, she was terrified of being buried alive (stories in her youth, I guess), so she convinced my grandfather they needed an above ground mausoleum – unheard of in the tiny town where I grew up. It’s still there and still the only one. Kinda strange, but fascinating in its own way.

    We loved the cemeteries in Paris, and we also visited Paris & Normandy in the fall. It’s a perfect season to be there.

    I love that you’re able to keep blogging and sharing your adventures with us! Thanks!

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    • Laura says:

      I like the idea of tending and grooming the graves of our families. The Chinese celebrate an annual holiday called Ching Ming in the spring where they clean and tend their family graves and put out food for their ancestors’ spirits. Afterwards the (living) family gathers to eat and celebrate. Relatives in my immediate family have all chosen cremation, so there’s really no place to to go like there would be if they were buried, but I’ve found other ways to think of them and honor them (or at least I try to). Burial customs around the world are so different – I once read an anthropological description of death and burial and found it creepy until I realized I was reading about our own customs, just written from another culture’s point of view!

      We’re enjoying beautiful weather here in Buenos Aires and are looking forward to fall weather in Europe. After over four years of summer clothes it’s been nice wearing warmer clothes again. We washed all our summer stuff the other day and it’s now packed at the bottom of our suitcases for a while!

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  2. Anne says:

    I have been to La Recoleta. I remember asking the guide why Eva Peron was not buried near her husband. The guide said the Duarte family really disliked him.

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    • Laura says:

      One thing we have noticed here is that Eva Peron is still very well respected and honored – she has her own museum, a plaza, and so forth while we have come across nothing honoring Juan Peron – nothing. He didn’t even rate being entombed at Recoleta while so many past presidents were.

      Outside of family disapproval, I also wonder if Juan Peron’s third marriage to Isabel also kind of nixed he and Eva being interred together. People we’ve talked with still respect Eva, seem sort of ‘meh’ about Juan Person, but intensely dislike Isabel.

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  3. JJ says:

    Wow, very interesting! I had no idea about Evita’s final days. How disturbing. Thanks for posting so often. I’m really enjoying it!

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    • Laura says:

      My friend, who is a gynecologist, sent me the article about Eva Peron. I had no idea how much she had suffered, and how much her husband hid things from her (or that he had likely caused her cancer). She was a very beautiful, vibrant young woman which makes the whole thing even more sad as well.

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    • Laura says:

      The angels throughout the cemetery showed just about every mood: defiant, brooding, sad, hopeful, and so forth. The bronze statuary however was immensely impressive, and very evocative and moving in many cases. The cost for those pieces must have been immense as well as they were all at least life-size or much, much larger.

      As they are fitted in between older buildings, I didn’t notice the newer mausoleums at first. But once I did they were easy to spot as they were so different from the others – far more sleek and angular with little or far less decoration, and they all seemed to be made of dark marble versus white or lighter colors.

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    • Laura says:

      I became something of an Eva Peron junkie when we were in Buenos Aires – the more I learned about her the more fascinated I became. It was fascinating to hear or watch the reactions to her (which ran both hot and cold), but she certainly has never been forgotten!

      One visit to the Recoleta cemetery and you understand why it is always the #1 recommended site to visit in Buenos Aires – it was fascinating!

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