Who would have guessed the most expensive real estate in Buenos Aires is found in a cemetery? Not only is it expensive, there’s a line waiting to get in (seriously)! You actually lease a plot here, as I understand it, and don’t permanently own it. In the future your heirs can cancel the deal or let the lease expire, though it’s so prestigious to have a plot here few do. Regardless, this piece of pricy land has become an interesting and popular tourist attraction.
Recoleta Cemetery is the final resting place of some of the richest and most important people in Argentina’s history, including politicians, Nobel prize winners, scientists and businessmen. Obviously only wealthy people can afford the real estate (about the same price as a nice condo in the neighborhood, a respectable 6 figure US$ sum, for a piece of land measuring a few square meters), so you’d expect to find many VIPs buried here. You can visit them any day you want to as the cemetery is open daily from 8 am to 6 pm.
The entrance to (and exit from) the cemetery is through neo-classical gates with tall columns. Most people explore the grounds on their own, sometimes with a map to find those grave-sites they especially want to see; that’s what we did and that’s what I’d recommend you do, too. Some guided tours are available — check at the desk when you enter if this option interests you. The cemetery is laid out in a grid pattern, with wide lanes and is easy to walk around in. As much as anything, you visit to get an overview impression of the place.
Recoleta Cemetery was once a garden affiliated with the adjoining Our Lady of Pilar church (Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Pilar), built in 1732. The cemetery, created in 1822, is among the oldest in the city and covers four city blocks (5.5 hectares or 14 acres). There are slightly less than 5000 mausoleums in Recoleta Cemetery, many of unusual architecture and built in a variety of styles; a number are adorned by beautiful sculptures. Several of the graves have been declared National Historical Monuments and are protected by the Argentinian government. Most sites are well-maintained although some aren’t (and these likely will soon be occupied by different tenants).
By far the most popular and visited tomb is Eva “Evita” Perón’s which, like Marilyn Monroe’s or Elvis Presley’s, is always decorated with flowers and letters from admirers. To prevent her body from being stolen (yet again!), as it had by several military governments, she was finally buried deep in a concrete vault 8 m (27 ft.) underground in 1976.
Another popular place to stop is Rufina Cambaceres’ tomb. She was a young woman who was buried alive in the early 1900s, so her story is especially grisly. She appeared to be dead, perhaps being catatonic or in a coma, and was buried. A few days after her interment, workers heard screams from the tomb. When it was opened, she truly was dead but there were scratches on her face and on the inside of her coffin from her attempts to escape. Her mother (whose heartache I can’t begin to imagine) then built an Art Nouveau tomb which has become a symbol of the cemetery. Her coffin is made of Carrara marble, carved with a rose on top, resting behind a glass wall. A lovely statue of a young girl adorns the tomb and locals often place flowers into her hand.
An interesting and unusual tomb is that of Liliana Crociati (de Szaszak). Liliana was 26 years old and, while visiting Innsbruck in 1970 was killed when an avalanche destroyed her hotel. Adjacent to the tomb, which was designed by her mother, is a life-size bronze statue of Liliana in her wedding dress. Subsequently, following the death of her pet dog, a bronze statue of it was added, with Liliana’s hand petting its head.
Besides the tombs, there’s a large population of feral cats that resides in and around the cemetery. These are fed by volunteers and are themselves a popular attraction, especially with children.
Enjoy this stroll through Recoleta’s walkways….