Some people think cemeteries are spooky and scary places. Others, like myself, find them fascinating locations for art and history. La Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires is as if you had stepped into a marvelous sculpture garden instead of a necropolis. All of the burials are in overground vaults, which could also be described as little private mausoleums.
The big draw in La Recoleta is undoubtedly the tomb of Eva Peron, once and perhaps still, the First Lady of Argentina. Also known as “Evita”, Eva Peron died of cancer at age 33 in 1952 after a meteoric rise to fame. She was the wife of Juan Peron, the thrice-elected President of the country. There are always groups of people at her tomb. Many of those old enough to remember her still become misty-eyed at the mention of her name. During her lifetime, she was adored by the masses and even in death, the worship continues almost six decades after her death.
To find the vault, one must look for the name ‘Duarte’, her maiden name, inscribed on it as she is buried in her family’s mausoleum. A brass plaque at eye level on the tomb, states that this is the final resting place of Eva Peron is well-worn by thousands of hands who have reached out for some connection to this legendary figure. As befitting someone of her status, the Recoleta cemetery is in the most exclusive part of Buenos Aires.
Amongst the approximately 5,000 vaults rest many people of wealth and prestige, including a number of Argentine Presidents, Juan Peron being the most notable exclusion.
The cemetery is laid out in sections like city blocks, with dozens of architectural styles represented. Each wealthy family seems to have tried to outrival its neighbors with elaborate marble facades and statues of highly detailed craftsmanship.
La Recoleta and the church that adjoins it, Our Lady of Pilar built in 1732, are definitely unusual stops on a visit to Buenos Aires, a city that is full of vibrant life. However, for those interested in the history of Argentina and a view of the region’s best art, a stop at this cemetery is imperative.