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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Recoleta Cemetery

Few places have surprised and impressed me more than the Recoleta Cemetery. I have always liked cemeteries (during daylight hours) and have a strange fascination with the stories surrounding old cemeteries, especially old cemeteries in really rich areas - they always seem to have the best stories. Even as a kid, it was not unusual for my family to go for a weekend walk through a nearby cemetery, I just figured that's what all families did. It's no surprise that I was really excited to visit the Recoleta Cemetery, it is a main tourist attraction for everyone, not just strange cemetery-lovers like me. I had no idea what I was getting into, this place is like nothing I've ever seen before.

We first visited Recoleta Cemetery during the BA Walking Tour we took right after moving in. Since then, I have taken the same tour a second time while my mom was visiting and found it even more interesting the second time around. This cemetery at one time held the most expensive real estate, per square meter, in the world. It is now beat by plenty of other places in the world but a few years ago a plot sold for somewhere around US$290,000. These are not normal cemetery plots, it is better described as a small city. The sidewalks are arranged like city streets and the tombs are like miniature buildings. Each building has it's own unique story, and many times the tomb itself says a lot about the life or death of the family within. Like the story about the tomb on the left. According to the tour, while they were both living, the wife was a big spender and the husband was a bit of a scrooge. At some point, the husband very publicly refused to pay for any of his wife's purchases, therefore bringing her spending habits to a halt. From that day forward, the wife never spoke to the husband again. Even after he died, 12 years later, she erected these statues on their family tomb showing her looking away from the husband - shunning him for eternity.

Then there are the really beautiful sculptures, like the one here on the right. This tomb shows an angel guiding the woman to heaven while the surrounding angels mourn Earth's loss. It's hard to see with the shadow, but there is an owl next to the rising woman. This signifies the intelligence of the family represented. This family, at one time, owned and ran the largest national newspaper in Argentina. There is so much thought and effort put into these sculptures, you really need a guide to explain all of the stories and meanings.

Last but not least, is the most famous tomb of all, Eva Peron's final resting place. It is relatively nondescript, although it comes with a very long and interesting story. The only way that you would know it was the tomb of someone famous is due to the constant presence of flowers and prayer cards.

We are lucky enough to have these monuments withing walking distance of our house, but the cemetery is a must-see if you are anywhere in Buenos Aires. There are few places like it in the world, and even if you are squeamish around classic cemeteries, I think this one is worth a try.

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