Hanging out with the illustrious dead in Buenos Aires’ Cementerio de la Recoleta

There’s a reason Buenos Aires is often called ‘the Paris of South America’: like the French capital, it boasts wide boulevards, hausmannian architecture, bright buildings and green spaces, and… one of its key attractions is a cemetery.

The Cementerio de la Recoleta was my first destination when I started visiting BA last Saturday. I wanted to take advantage of the market that takes place outside the cemetery at the weekend, but frustratingly, I realized as soon as I got there that my camera was completely out of battery and I wouldn’t be able to take any photo!

So I had a first wander around the Cementerio that day and headed back there with a fully charged camera on Tuesday, this time as part of a guided tour organised by my hostel.

When we worry about running out of burial space, the rich and illustrious citizens of Buenos Aires don’t share the same scruples: the Recoleta cemetery is not so much a graveyard as a miniature city, in which noble Porteno families honour their dead with full-scale mausoleums, some of which look more like small houses or churches than gravestones.

Different styles coexist in the cemetery, between classical chapels adorned with statues, colonaded marble temples of ancient Greek inspiration, and more modern, glass structures:

 

Among the key historical figures buried in La Recoleta, the most sought-after is, of course, Argentina’s sweetheart Evita – not Madonna, but ex-President Juan Peron’s wife, who was a challenger for the working classes and introduced several important social reforms, including women’s suffrage in 1947.

The Perons had their opponents too and not everyone remembers them fondly, but because she came from a humble background, because she was rather attractive, and because she died prematurely from cancer (at 33), the affectionately-nicknamed Evita became an icon – basically, she’s kind of the Lady Di of Argentina.

Thanks to our guide Santiago, I learnt the grim story of what happened to her body after her death. Her corpse was embalmed and was then stolen by the military (who couldn’t stand her popularity), to be hidden in various European cities including Milan. There are also rumours that it was repeatedly raped… Erm, lovely!

Anyway, the body is now safely buried (extra-deep!) in the Cementerio and is the focal point of everyone’s visit – so I gave in to my touristy side and posed next to the Duarte (Eva Peron’s maiden name) mausoleum:

Evita’s grave was the only one with flowers

 

The cemetery isn’t the only thing to see in Recoleta. Aside from the very pleasant weekend market, the upper-class neighbourhood is littered with greenery and features one of the city’s prettiest churches, the whitewashed Nuestra Senora del Pilar, right by the Cementerio.

Cemetery entrance, with church tower in the background

A short walk from there, I also went to admire the strange Floralis Generalis sculpture on Plaza de las Naciones Unidas. The massive steel and aluminium flower is a gift to the city by the Argentine architect Eduardo Catalano – it used to close up at night and open again every morning, but sadly the mechanism is now broken, taking away somewhat from the sculpture’s symbolism!

We ended our visit with a walk along super-posh Avenida Alvear, with its private villas and palaces, and a short tour of the Retiro area.

The Retiro train station tower
Posing with General San Martin, who is considered the founder of independent Argentina

 

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Camille

Hey, I'm Camille! I quit my life to travel the world in 2013 – and I haven’t stopped since! I have visited 40+ countries as a location-independent travel/lifestyle writer and digital marketer. I like hammocks, scooters, eating, and scaring my mother trying adventure sports! I was chosen as a top travel influencer by Influence.co, and have co-founded Helipad Marketing to help travel & lifestyle brands soar with killer online marketing.

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2 thoughts on “Hanging out with the illustrious dead in Buenos Aires’ Cementerio de la Recoleta”

  1. Le cimetière de la Recoleta me rappelle, dans son principe, celui de Highgate à Londres ou le Père-Lachaise à Paris, où de nombreux personnages célèbres sont enterrés. On peut s’y promener comme dans de simples jardins publics ou les visiter comme de vrais sites touristiques.
    A Paris, il y a d’ailleurs des guides-conférenciers qui proposent toute l’année des visites commentées. J’en avais suivi une avec un guide appelé Bertrand Beyern, historien et spécialiste du Père-Lachaise (il a écrit des livres). Il donnait des explications intéressantes et racontait des anecdotes documentées.

    1. Oui, c’est pour ca que je fais le parallele au debut de l’article avec le Pere Lachaise a Paris (que je n’ai d’ailleurs jamais visite). Le cimetiere de Recoleta est assez impressionnant, mais apparemment pas autant que celui de Manille..! En tous les cas, j’ai appris pas mal d’anecdotes interessantes grace a mon guide Santiago, avec qui j’ai d’ailleurs bien sympathise.

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