La Recoleta cemetery
A famous cemetery, acclaimed for its atmospheric tomb architecture, and a major tourist site in Argentina
's capital city of Buenos Aires
. Most tourists come to see the final resting place of Evita Peron, but many of the country's presidents are also buried here, including the great educator and innovator Domingo Faustino Sarmiento.
>What there is to see
>Access and costs
>Combinations with other dark destinations
>Combinations with non-dark destinations
What there is to see:
The famous Recoleta cemetery is surely an exceptionally atmospheric specimen of its type, sometimes likened to Pere Lachaise
, but differs from its even more famous European counterpart in that it is smaller in area and far less green. Except for a tree-lined avenue and central square just behind the main entrance it is comprised entirely of stone. That's not to say it is in any way inferior, just very different in appearance to many other well-known cemeteries.
The architecture of the various tombs, which are mostly family mausoleums, i.e. with more than just an individual grave, often takes the style of exuberant grandeur that was typical for the age elsewhere too. It is therefore interesting to just wander the (often narrow) alleys between the rows of graves and keep one's eyes open for unusual details – of which there are many to discover (see photos below).
Most (mainstream) tourists come here primarily in search of the tomb of one of the most famous figures in popular culture that Argentina
has ever produced: Evita Peron (of "Don't Cry For Me Argentina" fame), the glamorous First Lady in the era of Juan Peron's first presidency. She died aged only 33 in 1952 – but remains an iconic figure much revered in Argentina
to this day.
Given that legacy, it is surprisingly difficult to track down her grave. First of all, you have to look for her under her maiden name of Duarte. A chart near the entrance of the cemetery lists almost 300 names corresponding to markers on a map next to it. The Duarte family tomb is No. 88 and is located roughly in the middle of the central section of the western quarter of the cemetery (map C7). It is not sign-posted (only Sarmiento's tomb is), so it is still tricky to find the spot – unless there's a flock of other tourists (maybe on a guided tour) to follow or a throng of people standing at the tomb to give its location away. In case there is no help of this kind when you visit, here are the exact co-ordinates: 34 35 17.8 S, 58 23 37.6 W [-34.588338,-58.393707
on google maps]
Evita only came to occupy this grave in the mid 1970s, by the way, that is over two decades after her death! Her originally embalmed body had disappeared from Argentina during the 1955-71 military dictatorship, was later disclosed as buried in a secret tomb in Europe and was only returned to Argentina
after Juan Peron's death (in his third term as president) – his third wife and successor Isabel saw to it that Evita was reunited with her home country. She was later laid to rest here in Recoleta cemetery.
You can only see the outside of the tomb, adorned with a number of plaques for "Evita" (or Eva, as her real given name was), but the inside of the tomb, obviously enough, remains out of bounds. Legend has it that it is in fact heavily secured, with trapdoors and all.
The look of this particular grave from the outside may be a little underwhelming, but there are plenty of much grander tombs to make up for this, including some truly pompous military mausoleums in the rear section of the cemetery. In addition, a number of tombs have a partly broken door and/or windows so that you can look in – and see coffins, decorations, photos and memento mori aplenty in general.
As is typical for cemetery architecture of the age, angel statues (and reliefs) play an especially prominent role, and many an impressive specimen can be found here. What lends many of them an especially gothic appearance is old cobwebs that sometimes seem to form a kind of natural second veil around the angel's face …
My personal favourite (and I'm by no means alone in this judgement) is that stunning sight of a modernist gothic tomb in front of which a bronze statue of a slender young woman stands, with her left hand resting on a bronze dog … this is the grave of one Liliana Crociati de Szaszak, who, aged only 26, was killed by an avalanche while honeymooning in the Alps in Austria
in 1970. The dog, named Sabu, is identified as her "faithful friend". There are many deceased top dogs of the Argentinean elite about in this prestigious cemetery, but Sabu is the only real dog, if only in cast-in-metal form. Otherwise, i.e. alive, there're only legions of stray cats … Sabu's snout is polished golden and shimmers clean and bright – a clear sign that many a visitor must have given his nose a good stroking over the years.
For those not content with just individually, and mostly aimlessly, strolling around in this grey stone city of the dead, and would rather hear stories about the various tombs too (and have the most significant/famous persons buried here pointed out) it's best to go on a guided tour (see below for details). Whatever you do, if you are going in summer make sure to take plenty of water, wear a hat and apply sun cream. It can get boiling hot here and there isn't much shade when the sun is high in the sky …
All in all, a visit to Recoleta cemetery is a must for any dark tourist in Buenos Aires
who has a taste for the morbid romance such places can exude. Recoleta cemetery certainly does so by the bucket-load. It may not quite be on a par with such outstanding cemeteries as Highgate
, Pere Lachaise
s Central Cemetery
, but within Latin America it is certainly an outstanding gem all the same.
Ca. 2 miles (3 km) to the north of the city centre of Buenos Aires
, in the eastern part of the district of the same name, Recoleta, west of Retiro and north of Barrio Norte. The main entrance is on Junin street on the eastern side of the (walled) cemetery.
Access and costs: quite easy to get to, free.
Details: from within the northern half of the city centre at least, it's even walkable, certainly from the currently nearest metro stations, Retiro to the east (line C, at the end of Av. de Liberador), or Pueyrredon to the south (line D, at the intersection of Av. Santa Fe and Av, Pueyrredon). Once construction has been completed, the new Line H metro station Plaza Francia just round the corner from the cemetery will provide even more convenient public transport access.
Opening times: daily 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Guided tours (also free) usually take place in English on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 11 a.m. (and in Italian on Wednesdays) – in Spanish there are more tours, Tuesdays to Sundays at 9:30 and 11 a.m., as well as 2 and 4 p.m. (note that tours may be cancelled if it's raining).
Time required: you can easily spend between one and three to four hours here, depending on how much you like places like this. Guided tours are said to last an hour (but can end up rather longer than that).
Combinations with other dark destinations:
see Buenos Aires
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
the Cultural Centre of Recoleta is just round the corner, as are shops, open-air bars and parks. The Arts Museum Museo National de Bellas Artes) is here too, and the surrounding residential quarters of Recoleta belong to the most sophisticated in the city – well worth strolling around in. For more see under Buenos Aires
- Recoleta 01 - cemetery still life
- Recoleta 02 - Evita is buried here
- Recoleta 03 - several plaques for Evita
- Recoleta 04 - flowers for Evita
- Recoleta 05 - narrow lanes
- Recoleta 06 - grand stone city of the dead
- Recoleta 07 - businessman protection from above
- Recoleta 08 - especially pompous mausoleum
- Recoleta 09 - studying to death
- Recoleta 10 - some of the tombs are open
- Recoleta 11 - memento mori
- Recoleta 12 - little coffins
- Recoleta 13 - grace with dog
- Recoleta 14 - graceful hand
- Recoleta 15 - war in the background
- Recoleta 16 - cobweb veil
- Recoleta 17 - angel
- Recoleta 18 - little angel
- Recoleta 19 - clinging on
- Recoleta 20 - protruding angel with protruding toe
- Recoleta 21 - Mr Death impersonator waiting outside