The morning after the night before, bright an early I decided to hit the pavements and have a little explore around the city; a very strong coffee was required first, of course.
Caffein levels restored,I hit the pavements of Avenue 9 de Julio and began walking up towards the area of Recoleta. It was a good half an hour walk which gave me plenty of time to soak up the atmosphere and do some people watching.
Recoleta was such an interesting area of the city to visit; I was in no doubt that this is where the rich and famous in Buenos Aires live. The roads are full of beautiful mansions, elegant cafes and expensive boutiques. The neighbourhood is full of lush parks, grand monuments, art galleries, french architecture and wide avenues. It was gorgeous!
One of the first places I stopped off at in Recoleta was the Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar; a stunning white colonial church built by the Franciscans in 1732. I wandered inside the beautiful church, admired the elaborate murals and the famous Peruvian alter adorned with silver from Argentina’s northwest.
Next to the church stands the famous Recoleta Cemetery; I had looked forward to visiting this place as soon as I booked my tickets to Buenos Aires so I definitely couldn’t wait to start exploring!
It is said that only in Buenos Aires can the wealthy and powerful elite keep their status after death. When decades of dining on rich food and drink have taken their toll, Buenos Aires’ finest move ceremoniously across to the Cementerio de la Recoleta, joining their ancestors in a place they have religiously visited all their lives.
Argentines tend to celebrate their most honoured national figures not on the date of their birth but on the date of their death (after all, they’re nobody when they’re born) Nowhere is this obsession with mortality more evident than at Recoleta, where generations of elite repose in the grandeur of ostentatious mausoleums. Real estate here is among Buenos Aires’ priciest; there’s a saying that goes ‘it is cheaper to live extravagantly all your life than to be buried in Recoleta’. I see!
The cemetery is often referred to as a city of the dead and I could totally see why! There are numerous ‘streets’ lined with the impressive statues and marble sarcophagi. It really is super fascinating.
Some of the most interesting tombs I visited were as follows:
(1) Isabel Walewski Colonna (1847)
Young Isabel was the illegitimate grandchild of Napoleón Bonaparte, born in Buenos Aires, and who died only 6 days old. She was the daughter of Alexandre Florian Joseph, a Polish and French politician and diplomat, who was widely rumoured to be the illegitimate son of Napoleon I by his mistress, Countess Marie Walewska.
(2) Rufina Cambaceres (1883 – 1902) (aka ‘’the girl who died twice’’)
This is such an interesting story, and for this reason Rufina’s grave is one of the most visited in the cemetery…
In 1902, on her 19th birthday, a girl by the name of Rufina Cambaceres was busily preparing for a night out to celebrate her big day. Suddenly Rufina lost consciousness and collapsed; on examination, three doctors all agreed that the poor girl had passed away.
As a young socialite, Rufina was from wealthy stock, and her family held a grand funeral for her with her coffin being subsequently sealed in a mausoleum at Recoleta Cemetery.
Days later, one of the Recoleta workmen noticed signs of a possible break in at the mausoleum and opened the casket to take a look around, hoping that grave robbers hadn’t got in.
Rufina’s remains, however, were where they were supposed to be, still in her coffin, but the workmen noticed scratches inside the coffin and marks on Rufina’s fingers. It became obvious that Rufina had been buried alive. She must have awoken to find herself in this dreadful situation and fought like mad to get out or attract attention!
Ultimately, it is thought that Rufina died of heart failure in her attempts to escape, hence the reason she is now remembered as the girl that died, not once, but twice..
Today the mausoleum features a full size statue of Rufina, staring out at the world while holding the door firmly closed…
(3) David Alleno (1854 – 1910)
According to the Argentine folk legend, Italian gravedigger David Alleno worked for thirty years in Recoleta Cemetery, saving his wages throughout his life for his very own plot in the burial ground. After commissioning an Italian architect to sculpt a statue of him, he put the finishing touches on the precious spot and then went home and killed himself. Rumours persist that he haunts the cemetery at night and legend goes that you can still hear the noise of his keys as he walks down the narrow streets before dawn…
(4) Luis Ángel Firpo (1894 – 1960)
An Argentine boxer nicknamed ‘The Wild Bull of the Pampas’, Luis Ángel Firpo was wildly popular across Latin America in the 1920s. On his passing in 1960, he was buried in a vault behind a life sized statute of him in his boxing outfit. In 2003 he was named as one of the greatest punchers of all time.
(5) Liliana Crociati de Szaszak (1944 – 1970)
Twenty six year old Liliana was in Innsbruck, Austria, in February 1970 when she was killed by an avalanche. Her tomb was designed by her mother in the Neo-Gothic style, in decided contrast to the other tombs in the cemetery. A life size, green bronze statue of Liliana in her wedding dress sits adjacent to her tomb. Following the death of Liliana’s beloved dog Sabú, a bronze statue of the dog was added, with Liliana’s hand resting on the dog’s head.
(6) Admiral Guillermo Brown (1777 – 1857)
Admiral Guillermo Brown, also known as William Brown, was an Irish born Admiral and the finder of the Argentine Navy. His tomb features sea and sailing carvings, and the mausoleum was partially built with melted down bronze from the canons of the battleships he once commanded. The exterior of the tomb is painted green in honour of his Irish heritage.
(7) Gen Tomás Guido (1788- 1866)
A General in the Argentinian War of Independence, Guido joined the revolution of May 1810, helping to negotiate independence from Spain. His son, poet and politician Carlos Guido y Spano, built his father’s stoney vault in tribute, with his own hands.
(8) Eva Peron (1919 – 1952)
Ok so my obsession, I mean admiration, for Eva Peron has probably been quite evident across my recordings of my travels in Buenos Aires. I just find her story so bloody interesting, the way that she came from a really under privileged background and was able to…use… her assets to get what she wanted in life. I’m sure she never expected that she would end up as the First Lady of Argentina – it’s just such a fascinating tale.
Eva Perón was born on May 7, 1919, in Los Toldos, Argentina. One of four illegitimate children to her already married father, she lived with her mother in a rural village in pretty much poverty. At the age of 15 it is said that the fled her village with a tango singer and made her way to the bright lights of Buenos Aires in search of excitement, and a new life for herself. After moving to Buenos Aires in the 1930s, she had some success as an actress. It is said, however, that much of her success was due to the fact that she, erm, ‘knew’ the men to know, and that she had a string of love affairs which helped propel herself to notoriety. In 1945, however, she married Juan Perón, who became president of Argentina the following year. Eva Perón used her position as first lady to fight for women’s suffrage and improving the lives of the poor, and became a legendary figure in Argentine politics.
Of course, knowing that Eva was buried here in Recoleta, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit her grave, and of course, to learn about how the drama of her life continued even once she had passed away…
Eva’s grave was actually one of the last I visited in the cemetery, and I must say, I was pretty underwhelmed, by Recoleta standards, it really was quite nondescript.
Juan Peron ordered for Eva’s body to be embalmed so that her body would be preserved and kept on display. However, come 1955, three years after Eva had died, a military coup overthrew Peron; him fleeing to Spain. The coup removed Eva’s corpse, reportedly making wax decoy bodies to confuse her supporters. They stored her real body in a van, and then an office. In 1957 they sent her body to a cemetery in Milan to be buried under a fake name.
Her corpse stayed in Milan until 1971, when it was disinterred and given to Juan Perón in Madrid. Unfortunately by this point, the body had become rather damaged but he and his third wife set about ‘fixing it’.. they cleaned the body and brushed her hair. They even kept Eva’s body on display in their dining room…!
In 1976 Eva was moved back to Buenos Aires and she now lies in a crypt five meters underground, heavily fortified to ensure that no one can disturb the remains of Argentina’s most beloved and controversial First Lady.
Apparently even nowadays, there is talk to moving Eva again and re-burying her with Juan, however it’s said that Eva’s relations are reluctant and want to let her rest in peace where she currently is, in Recoleta – well I think she certainly deserves that…!
I probably spent far too much time in the cemetery than I should have, however I was completely in awe with the scenes around me. It reminded me a lot of the [treme] cemetery that I had visited in New Orleans back in 2015 – morbid fascination at its best! I literally couldn’t recommend this place more as a little place to wander around for people visiting this area of the city.
Having spent some time in the cemetery I exited in the gorgeous afternoon sun and carried on wandering through the area. I found myself at the foot of a super interesting pedestrian bridge which straddles a busy highway below.
Just down from the bridge, you can’t miss the impressive buildings of the Law University in Buenos Aires. Martin explained to me that there is a superstition for students at this university that if you stop and count the pillars on the forecourt of the school, you will never graduate! Super interesting.
Just next door to the beautiful law school is the Plaza de las Naciones Unidas which houses the stunning design feat; the Floralis Generica. Designed to bloom during the day and close at night just like most real flowers do, Floralis Generica is a beautiful metallic sculpture that was installed in 2002. The amazing aluminium and stainless steel art piece was created by Argentine architect Eduardo Catalano. Measuring 20 metres high, Floralis Generica is the city’s first mobile sculpture and is controlled by a hydraulic system and photocells.
I wandered around the park and chilled out on the grass until the evening started to draw in. Taking a leisurely wander back to the hostel I must admit I had a quick dinner and an early night after a couple of non stop days – very much needed!