If you are lucky to visit La Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires on a rare day when tourists don’t crowd its narrow alleys, you will get a sense sadness. Without the camera clicks and the visitors’ giggles, this places looks strange and unnerving, yet peaceful and fascinating.
Cemeteries always trigger emotions. They are a perpetual reminder of our ephemeral existence. And yet I like rambling through them. I like visiting the graves of people I don’t know, reading their epitaphs, wondering about their lives. But before you find that morbid, let me take you for a walk through this extraordinary graveyard that is the most expensive piece of land in Argentina.
A Brief History of the Cemetery
La Recoleta was inaugurated on November 17, 1822 under the name of Cemeterio del Norte (Northern Cemetery). The cemetery was built around an abandoned convent established by the Order of the Recoletos. The order was disbanded in 1822, and the garden of the convent became the first public cemetery in Buenos Aires.
What to Expect at La Recoleta Cemetery
La Recoleta is a captivating place! A labyrinth of towering marble mausoleums, built in many architectural styles. There are over 6,400 statues, sarcophagi, coffins and crypts in the city of the dead. And 90 of them are national historical monuments.
It seems like each family tried to outdo the other with grandeur and extravagance. Some mausoleums look like Gothic chapels, or Greek temples with domes and obelisks. Others stay guarded by life-size statues of nymphs, cherubs, babies, crying widows, generals, soldiers, and even boxers.
Most of the crypts we’ve seen are in good shape. However, there are many that have fallen into complete disrepair and neglect. The dusty sarcophagi that lay abandoned and forgotten on the cold floor are a sad and chilling scene!
Famous Graves at La Recoleta Cemetery
It’s not often that a cemetery will make the must-see list of attractions. But the elegant and aristocratic La Recoleta Cemetery seems to be drawing a lot of interest in Buenos Aires. You may credit this to Eva Perón’s tomb, but Evita is not the only one who brings fame to the cemetery. Many historic figures, national heroes, former presidents and famous personalities rest here in peace for eternity.
Eva Peron’s Tomb
The most celebrated figure of the Recoleta Cemetery is without a doubt Eva Peron. She was the wife of Argentine President Juan Perón ( 1895–1974) and First Lady of Argentina from 1946 until her death in 1952. Almost all those who visit La Recoleta Cemetery are curious to see her tomb. Evita seems to generate as much interest in death as she did in life!
Finding the grave is a little tricky. As you look on the big map at the entrance, the Duarte family mausoleum is on the left side of the cemetery. It took us a while to find it tough. That was because we were expecting something much more impressive. Instead, we found a simple family grave with no statues, no obelisks, and no impressive mausoleums. Just an elaborately carved bronze door on which the Argentinians always hang fresh flowers.
Evita’s posthumous story is as tumultuous and her short life. Three years after her passing, her body was secretly removed from the crypt because of a coup that overthrew her husband, President Juan Perón.
The Argentine military moved Evita’s body from one location to another for fear that her fans will turn the grave into a shrine. Eventually they shipped the body out of the country and buried it in Milan, under an assumed name.
After almost 20 years, Evita’s body finally returned to the Duarte family mausoleum in the Recoleta Cemetery. The most beloved and controversial First Lady of Argentina resides now in a heavily fortified crypt where no one can disturb her remains.
The Paz Family Mausoleum
José Clemente Paz (1842-1912) was an Argentine statesman, diplomat and journalist. He founded the newspaper La Prensa.The mausoleum of the Paz family is a majestic black stone structure, designed by French artist Jules-Felix Coutan, head of the École de Beaux Arts in Paris.
In front of the mausoleum are two gigantic marble angles reaching towards the top of the vault. On top of the mausoleum lies a collapsed woman with an flameless lamp in her hand. Next to her there is a casket from which a dove seems to fly out, while the soul of the deceased rises up to be greeted by a third angel. The statues have very delicate features and are so expressive, as if they are alive.
Dorrego-Ortiz Basualdo Mausoleum
The family vault of Dorrego-Ortiz Basualdo (1849 – 1920) is one of the largest and most majestic structures in the Recoleta cemetery.
The mausoleum was designed by the French architect Louis Dubois as a chapel. The lavishness of the structure reflects the enormous wealth of the Basualdo family. In front of the mausoleum there is a niche decorated with symbolic scenes from the Gospel.
In front of the mausoleum there is a white marble statue of a virgin lighting a menorah, a seven-branched candelabrum that is one of the oldest symbols of the Jewish people.
Rufina Cambaceres Mausoleum
There are two very sad burial places in La Recoleta Cemetery that make the heart of every parent shrink. One is the crypt of Rufina Cambaceres, a young Argentine girl who entered into coma in 1902 and was pronounced dead at age 19.
The story says that a few days after her burial, the graveyard workers heard screams and noises coming from her tomb. They dug up the grave and when they opened the coffin they discovered scratches on it and on the girl’s face. That led to the conclusion that she was probably buried alive and attempted to escape her grave when she woke up from her coma. What a horrific thought!
Struck with grief, her mother ordered a beautiful Art Nouveau mausoleum with sculpted flowers and a life-size marble statue of her daughter. The statue depicts a girl pushing the crypt’s door.
Although the story of Rufina’s tragic death has never been verified, the beauty of this mausoleum captures the hearts of thousands of people who come to visit it every year.
Liliana Crociati de Szaszak Tomb
The second of the saddest graves in La Recoleta Cemetery is the one of Liliana Crociati de Szaszak. The twenty-six-year old woman died tragically in an avalanche while skiing in Innsbruck, in 1970.
Her grief-stricken parents built her a beautiful Neo-Gothic style crypt and modeled it on their daughter’s childhood room. The crypt is made entirely out of wood and glass.
Carlos Pellegrini Tomb
Another beautiful tomb is that of Carlos Pellegrini, a former military man who became the President of Argentina in 1890’s. When he took office, Argentina was in the middle of a deep economic crisis. His administration he cleaned up the country’s finances and created Argentina’s National Bank.
The marvelous white marble statue on his tomb displays a life-size statue of Carlos Pellegrini sitting atop of a coffin. At the foot of the coffin is a female figure and a child, symbolizing Argentina.
The Cats of La Recoleta Cemetery
I can’t close this post without mentioning the big colony of cats that reside at La Recoleta. They are the live residents of the cemetery, that wander the alleys days and night, sleep in the abandoned crypts and relax in the sun. They seem to be the watchful guardians of the lonely tombs. Maybe a gesture of compassion for the abandoned spirits…
Apparently the cats have a benefactor: a woman who feeds them and makes sure they are taken care of. With so many cats roaming around, rats have very little room to invade the graves.
How to Get to La Recoleta
La Recoleta Cemetery sprawls over 14 acres of land in one of Buenos Aires’s oldest and most upscale “barrios” – Recoleta. The main entrance is on 1760 Junín St., close to Plaza Mujica Láinez.
There is no charge to visit the grounds of the Recoleta Cemetery. If you want to get to specific graves, you can hire a tour guide from the entrance rather than try to find them yourself. If you don’t want to pay for a tour, you can buy a map of the cemetery for a few pesos and try to find your way around.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays there are free tours of the cemetery that leave from the main entrance at 11:00 a.m. Opening hours for La Recoleta Cemetery are from 7:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily.
What a maze of crypts. And you are right when you say that each one is trying to outdo the others. Pretty sad though for the first lady of Argentina. Wish they had done something more for here. Loved the Liliana Crociati’s Tomb with its sculpture. Lovely read, Anda
I feel you; I like visiting cemeteries too, even though they’re more of a sad place and reading some of those epitaphs can actually make you feel some sorrow. However, La Recoleta seems like quite an interesting one, given that these tombs have been made so extravagant. You’re right, some of them do look like Greek temples rather than just tombs. I can imagine people competing to have their loved ones’ tombs look more lavish than the others, that’s so typical behaviour of the rich and famous!
Its amusing. While normally, cemeteries aren’t really tourist attractions, I see myself visiting quite a few of them of late, esp., those historic ones.
I agree about people behaving weirdly in cemetaries and memorials. Its disturbing. When I was an underground burial in Malta, I saw a tourist guide give very generic explanations in a loud voice. It was really irritating! So yeah, I get you. Cemeteries need to be seen when it isn’t too crowded.
Yes. As you say, indeed they seem to have tried to out-do one another and make more and more splendid resting places! 90 of them are historic monuments? Whoa! That’s very very unique…
I would have never planned to visit a cemetery while on travel as it saddens me a lot. But this one seems interesting with its grand architecture. Never knew that s many famous personalities have been buried here. Weird and scary but definitely a must-visit
Ok, I would go there for the cats alone. Lol! Seriously, though, I love heading to cemeteries because it gives you such a glimpse into a culture. This one is lovely!
This was such an interesting post! I love to walk around cemeteries. They are so very peaceful and you can almost transfer to another world there. I have visited many cemeteries on my trips as I feel like they tell me so much about the local life and culture. Here it made me wonder what happened to the family of the abandoned crypt.
Thanks, Paula. Some people find it creepy to walk in cemeteries, but I like it.
A very different and interesting post about a unique place that not many people visit on holidays in a new destination. I must admit without reading your post I would have never thought of visiting this cemetery even if i was visiting Buenos aires. It is indeed a resting place of great souls and some of them being very popular. For sure I would like to visit this with not too many tourists around as it does need its respect and that quietness. It’s got some amazing architecture and surely some happy and sad endings to many of the tombs . thanks for sharing
I have heard a lot about La Recoleta and frankly, it has generated a lot of interest in me. I once saw the Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah and that was quite an interesting visit for me. La Recoleta looks intriguing and like you described, it actually looks like a small city with Gothic chapels and Greek temples. What a place to rest after your death! Or does that even matter once you are dead! I would love to visit this place.
I should check out the Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah too.
I too agree with you that visiting a cemetery raises many varied emotions but sometimes we get to know our past from here. La Recoleta cemetery looks interesting and unique and not like other cemeteries. Some of them really look like chapels, or Greek temples with domes. Would check La Recoleta cemetery when I visit Buenos Aries.
Sandy N Vyjay
Places like the La Recoleta cemetery always evoke mixed emotions. One does feel a tug at the heart as you realize where we all will end up one day. But the La Recoleta cemetery is really grand and looks like a city, a city of the dead. Its grandeur is breathtaking. It is sad to learn about the tumultuous history of Eva Peron which haunted her even after death.
I visited here last in 2012. There really is such beauty there. Your photos are absolutely lovely! It truly is one of its kind!
Such a graceful & beautiful place. I love visiting old cemeteries too. New Orleans has gorgeous old ones but nothing as well preserved as you found.
I haven’t seen the New Orleans cemetery, Elaine, although I’ve been in New Orleans many times before. I’m going to add it to my list though. Thanks for letting me know.
Pola | Jetting Around
I tried to go there, but it was closed. Thanks to your post and beautiful photos, I get to take a peek inside. I now live in Paris near there Pere Lachaise cemetery, and these two always remind me of each other. I plan to visit BsAs again (one of my favorite cities), so maybe I’ll try again.
Pere Lachaise cemetery is equally beautiful, Pola.
Very interesting! I’ve never seen a cemetery so grandiose like this with such little greenery. I would have liked the little cat colony too!
Jim ~ ReflectionsEnroute
South America is really calling to me lately. I’ll need to add this to my choices when i finally do get to Argentina. I guess I can’t complain too much about seeing so many tourists in cemeteries, after all I too visit them. I prefer them to be solemn and sober. La Recoleta looks very interesting.
La Recoleta is a one-of-a-kind cemetery. I haven’t seen anything like it so far.
Tanja (the Red phone box travels)
lots of cats:) an interesting cemetery.
I’m not so much into visiting cemeteries when out in a new destination, but some are a must to see especially places like this (and also the ones over in Paris!) I actually haven’t heard of this place in Argentina. Thanks for the heads up 🙂
What an odd site to see but I’m so down for it! I like that there’s a bunch of history to comes with this cemetery!
Not exactly odd if you are in it for the art, Erica.
The architecture is stunning! I’ve never seen a cemetery like this and you’ve taken good photos to of it! 😉
Europe has many cemeteries like this, Trisha and some of them are quite famous and really worth seeing.
I had no idea people flocked to a cemetery to see Eva Peron tomb, I guess there are all sorts of fascinating people out there. For a cemetery this looks rather posh and pretty
People always flock to see famous places and cemeteries are no exception. Besides, Eva Peron was very loved by the Argentinian people, so there’s no surprise they often visit her tomb.
I visited the cemetery a few years ago. You do a very nice job describing the place – and I agree its sad to see the ones that have been neglected. Fascinating place and well worth a visit.
I am gutted that I missed the cat colony when I visited. This is really weird as I spot cats from a good distance normally, and if not they spot me 🙂 Recoleta is a really nice place to visit in Buenos Aires!
I’m glad you liked that too, Claudia.
I do not usually visit cemeteries as it has a creepy feel ( or maybe just my wild imagination). This one looks interesting though.
I love visits through famous and historical cemeteries. Would love to see Evita’s tomb!
Your post brought back so many great memories of our visit to Buenos Aires. We stayed in the Recoleta area and thought it was a wonderful area to explore the city. Having La Recoleta cemetery so close to where we were, it was easy to spend several afternoons wondering around that beautiful and peaceful place.
I wish I could have gone back too. There was so much more to see, so many more stories to read…
Carmen | Carmen's Luxury Travel
The beauty of each one of these crypts and the detail of the artwork is incredible. You have to have mucho dinero to contract these types of works of art. I would of been wandering around for hours in this amazing city of crypts.
We were lucky the weather was sunny so would could wander around for a while.
I always scape from visiting cemeteries, but your post encourage me to do it
So, we were lucky when we visited… I certainly don’t remember it to be very crowded, not more than any historic graveyard in Germany. The pomp of this place is certainly amazing, like every family set itself a monument to show off! Did you noticed the shelves for coffins in some buildings? Like there is room for at least 12 family members…
I agree, Juergen, some people need to show off even in their final resting places…
Thank you, Samiya. I think you’d enjoy visiting this place.
I’ve never visited a cemetery, my friends have always found it too grim. But I do have my eyes set on quite a few. This one looks really beautiful.
I think you’d love La Recoleta Cemetery, Vlad. It’s a work of art, besides being a very special place for meditation. It takes you so far away from the tumult of the everyday life…
I don’t know, but I have a bit of a thing for cemetaries. Must make me weird 🙂 This one looks impressive. And awwww the kitties, they are very good soul-protectors!
I agree, Esther, not everybody is at ease in a cemetery. I like visiting them, though.
Lyn - A Hole in my Shoe
I haven’t been to Buenos Aire’s so therefore not been to La Recoleta cemetery but would love go there. Whenever we travel we try and take in a cemetery. I too like to visit gravesites and don’t find it morbid at all. Again Anda, thank you for sharing another place that holds my interest.
I’m glad we share the same interest for visiting cemeteries. There is so much history and beautiful art in some of them.
Anna | slightly astray
I LOVE the Recoleta cemetery! So much that I went to visit it twice during my time in BA. I love wandering though the aisles. I have a mini photo post as well. 🙂
Irene S. Levine
You made a journey through a cemetery rich with history and interest.
Thank you, Irene.