Recoleta Cemetery truly feels like a city within a city with its grid street plan and mausoleums that resemble small houses and churches. It opened in November 1822 as the first public necropolis in the city of Buenos Aires on land that belonged to the Franciscan monks.
What I find interesting is that a visit to Recoleta Cemetery provides a glimpse into the political, artistic and social history of the country. 21 former presidents, Independence War heroes, explorers, artists, Nobel Prize recipients, writers, sporting legends and even sworn enemies in life share this eternal resting place.
There is a display of wonderful works of art that represent different artistic periods, such as Neoclassical, Gothic, Art Deco or Art Nouveau. About 70 mausoleums are on the National Heritage List. Some of the statues are so lifelike that I expected them to turn round and talk to me (they never did).
In some cases, the art gave rise to urban legends whose truth is difficult to ascertain. Take the story of Liliana Crociati de Szaszak, for example. Her bronze statue is hauntingly beautiful and poignant. Some say that she died in an avalanche in the Austrian Alps during her honeymoon in 1970 or 1971. Some say it was a ski trip, not her honeymoon. It is said she’s depicted wearing her wedding dress. Some say that her loyal dog was added later, some say the dog died the moment she did. Who knows what really happened, but her parents’ sorrow is almost palpable in this tibute.
Among the most famous residents is Eva Peron. Her mausoleum is understated and rather difficult to find. We came across it by chance, although you’ll find it if you follow the throngs of tourists from the cruises. People still leave flowers and pray for her soul. Her husband’s nemesis, General Eduardo Lonardi, is also a resident. He led the military revolution that ousted President Perón in 1955.
The list of people buried here reads like a map of the city, as many streets have been named after famous people. For instance, first I found the tomb of the person after whom the street where my parents live in was named and later I found the cross street!
Recoleta Cemetery has a wealth of stories and urban legends. One of the urban legends is that of the Dama de Blanco. This lady in white is said to be a lost soul that haunts the cemetery and beyond. Over the years, many people have sworn they’d seen her. Who knows.
Another haunting story is that of Rufina Cambaceres, although this one is true. Rufina was a beautiful young socialite who died in May 1902. Or did she? Even though three doctors certified her death, it turned out to be a case of catalepsy. She seemed dead but wasn’t. The poor thing woke up in her coffin. Tried to escape but couldn’t, and died again.
Other stories aren’t as sad, like that of Tiburcia and Salvador Maria del Carril. Both were wealthy landowners, and he went on to become the country’s first vice-president. They had a very stormy relationship. She got into debt, for example, and he refused to pay. After her husband died in 1883, Tiburcia del Carril commissioned that a bust with her likeness be put with her back towards that of Salvador Maria’s. Can we call it an eternal grudge?
This one is for boxing fans. Luis Angel Firpo, a.k.a. The Wild Bull of the Pampas, was the first Latin American heavyweight to challenge the champion Jack Dempsey for the world title in 1923. It was probably the best fight in the history of boxing. Even though it seemed that Firpo was about to win, Dempsey came back and beat him. That fight made history, though.
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Address: Junin 1760, Buenos Aires.
It opens every day from 7 am to 6 pm. Entrance is free of charge. Free guided tours in Spanish only.
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