La Recoleta Cemetery: Burial Ground of the Rich and Famous
Spending an afternoon wandering around a graveyard isn’t really high on my list of fun activities, but I made an exception for La Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
The high terrain of the Recoleta area first attracted wealthy families trying to escape deadly yellow fever and cholera outbreaks in the late 1870s, (it was thought that the height reduced the number of insects that transmitted the diseases). These powerful families settled into the area, and today, Recoleta, along with the neighbouring communities of Palermo and Retiro, form the most traditional and affluent residential zone in the city. The area is full of expensive and stylish homes, family mansions, foreign embassies, luxury hotels, and of course, La Recoleta.
Inaugurated on November 17th, 1822, the Cemetery was built atop the convent garden of the disbanded Recoletas Order of Monks. With approximately 6,400 above ground vaults organized by ‘street,’ it feels more like a crowded, miniature city than the final resting place of Buenos Aires’ most elite citizens.
Designed by French architect Prosper Catelin, at the request of President Bernardino Rivadavia, the cemetery has a mind-boggling display of luxurious family crypts and mausolea. The remains of rich and famous Argentinians like Domingo Faustino Sarmiento and Bartolomé Mitre can be found there, as well as the most famous of them all, Eva Perón.
Wandering through the labyrinth of streets, we are confronted by delicately carved marble and stone angels looking skyward beseechingly, grand cupolas and the forlorn figures of those long ago buried and gone. It’s eerie and beautiful and majestic and sad all at once, a mournful reminder of Buenos Aires’ long gone Golden Age.
When we chance upon Eva’s vault, we are surprised by it’s modesty. Hidden deep within the heart of the Cemetery, her tomb is adorned with fresh flowers. It’s clear that Buenos Aires has not forgotten Evita.
Visiting Recoleta Cemetery
The Cemetery is located at Calle Junin 1760 and is open from 7AM to 6PM. Admission and twice weekly guided tours in English are free.
The nearest Subte (metro) stations are Callao on Line D and General San Martin on Line A, however neither of these stations is actually close to the Cemetery. You’ll have to walk for 15 minutes or more. Alternatively, you can take a collectivo or city bus, but make sure you have exact change for the fare.
La Recoleta’s website can be found here (only in Spanish).