Behind elegant neo-classical gates in a quiet corner of northern Buenos Aires lies a city in miniature. Avenues of cypress weave past stately yew lined mausoleums bearing ornate facades of granite and gleaming white marble. Silence hangs like mist in this quiet neighborhood where the dead slumber peacefully and the living tread softly.
Located in Recoleta, one of the cityâ€™s most affluent suburbs, the grand Cemeterio Recoleta was created in 1822 for the wealthy, the powerful and occasionally, the famous. One of Argentinaâ€™s architectural gems, this country club for the dead is crammed with exquisitely designed mausoleums and graceful monuments. Each of these stone shrines is embellished with lavish carvings of angels and images of the Holy Mother, and inscribed with the names of the countryâ€™s most influential familiesâ€”there are few individual tombs, tradition (and economics) dictating that families must be interred together. The departed slumber peacefully, lovingly wrapped in the same opulence and wealth that they were accustomed to while living.
The famous Recoleta cemetery stands as a walled fortress with an impressive mini-city of unique architecture within. Some tombs shine brilliantly with freshly laid marble and impressive stonework, while others are deteriorating with aged crumbling stucco, exposed brick and local plants dangling like architectural hairpieces. The grounds are not vast, but contain around 4,700 tombs.
The main draw is MarÃa Eva Duarte PerÃ³nâ€™s afterlife digs in tomb 54â€”just follow the crowd to her surprisingly drab final resting place. Tucked away along one of La Recoletaâ€™s narrow, shaded alleys is the Duarte family tomb, a slab of smooth black marble marked by a series of bronze plaques and a heap of flowers. It was here, on October 22, 1976â€”24 years after she diedâ€”that the icon better known as Evita, was finally laid to rest with her family.
Besides the still-beloved Eva PerÃ³n, the cemetery is home to numerous Argentine luminaries of bygone eras: prominent artists, several presidents and generals, poet JosÃ© HernÃ¡ndez, creator of the epic MartÃn Fierro, the now largely forgotten winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Luis Leloir, and even Susan Barrantes, the mother of Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York.
Think of it as a gated community for rich dead people with the toughest-ever approval board and post-mortem pads that, in some cases, are probably larger and more opulently furnished than your apartment.
The original church and living quarters of the Recoleta monks who built the cemetery can be found right next door, now converted into the Centro Cultural (Cultural Center), where local and famous artists often show their work. Then, just outside the cemetery, Plaza Francia stretches down to Avenida Libertador. The nice lawns are perfect for a sunbath or a cup of mate. On weekends, the place explodes with jugglers, footballers and hundreds of vendors selling local crafts and food.
Recoleta forms part of the Barrio Norte, well worth a look for its well-appointed European-style homes and beautiful churches. The most famous is the BasÃlica Nuestra SeÃ±ora del Pilar, the second oldest in the city and topped with distinctive cerulean-blue ceramic tiles. The highlight inside is the lavish silver altar, a masterpiece of Baroque art decorated with an Inca sun. The church is just north of the cemetery entrance, and only 500 m further is the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes. The most important art gallery in Argentina, this grand edifice houses a significant collection of Argentine art.
Open daily, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Recoleta, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Price Description: Guided tours are offered, and admission is free.
Phone: 4804-7040, 4803-1594