Walking with the Dead – La Recoleta Cemetery

In a very nice neighbourhood of Buenos Aires, stands its first public cemetery. While not something you generally consider to be a tourist attraction, but this cemetery is really quite impressive.

This cemetery has around 4500 tombs. All different, ranging in opulence from a simple marble tomb to mausoleums so grand, you compare them to famous works of art. I was told one of the grand structures had room for 45 to attend mass, so the family of the deceased could pray with him or her each week.
This cemetery was built in a time when you didn’t so much hold the spirit of someone who had passed in your heart wherever you went, but rather you built a shrine for them to rest in, and you would visit to be physically close to them.

Each tomb has a story and every story I heard was fascinating. From the young woman who was killed during an avalanche in Austria on her honeymoon, to the woman who was buried without being dead. (Did doctors confuse a catatonic state with death, or is it a tale for the tourists based on the statue on her tomb that sees a young woman trying to open a door?)

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The attention to detail on the statues is phenomenal. On one in particular you can see a man who has one foot on a boat to represent where he came from, and his other foot on the land to represent his new life in Argentina. You can see the folds in his clothes and hat, and perhaps even the sparkle in his eye.

For the most part it’s a cemetery for the wealthy, where presidents, politicians, doctors, lawyers and such rest. There are Nobel prize winners too; the man who separated lactose from milk is buried here; as well as its most famous resident, Eva Peron. Perhaps the reason the cemetery is so busy with tourists these days.

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From French marble angels and grand winged condors to intricate stained glass and ornate painted ceilings, most of the tombs at Recoleta cemetery are tended with care, but some have been left to wither in the elements. Perhaps there is no one in the family anymore to tend the site, perhaps no one lives close, I’ll never know why, but in many ways the derelict tombs are just as, if not more thought provoking than the well-tended sites.

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Should you find yourself in Buenos Aires, La Recoleta Cemetery is a must see.


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