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Recoleta

Written on: Saturday March 1st, 2008

A journal entry from: Kevin and Julie's RTW

Location: Buenos Aires, Argentina

Author: Julie

Hola!

We spent a lazy morning enjoying the hostel. In the afternoon we returned to the Recoleta district to see if we could find the cemetery. The neighbourhood has been referred to as the Paris of the Americas, with many French-style palaces and villas built in the area, especially on Avenida Alvear with its sophisticated restaurants, up-scale shopping (Gucci! Prada!) and mansions built by the affluent families of Buenos Aires, (today some used as embassies), and one of America's most luxurious hotels, the grand five-star Alvear Palace Hotel. Recoleta is one of the most expensive neighbourhoods to reside in Buenos Aires, both in terms of real estate and of the cost of living. Even dying here is costly, as a mausoleum in the Recoleta cemetery is of great expense.

The Recoleta Cemetery's status as a tourist attraction is rivalled by few; some compare it to Père Lachaise in Paris, where Jim Morrison is buried. It was designed by Prospero Catelin of France, following a proposal by Bernardino Rivadavia, the first president of Argentina, and opened in 1822 as a public cemetery for ordinary citizens. We entered through large neo-classical gates with tall Greek columns. Before us was a large boulevard splitting in three directions. The entire cemetery is laid out in sections like city blocks, with wide tree-lined main walkways branching into sidewalks filled with mausoleums. In the center is a small square with a large colony of wild cats looking for a good scratch and cuddle from visitors. I think they are fed by locals who come to pray at the mausoleums of family members.

While many of the mausoleums are in fine shape and well-maintained, others have fallen into disrepair. Several can be found with broken glass, littered with rubbish, and at least a couple are being used as a janitorial supply closet, with cleaning and maintenance products stored on top of coffins. Each mausoleum bears the family name etched into the facade; brass or bronze plaques are added to the front for particular family members. La Recoleta is one of those cemeteries where the tradition of engraving a death date but no birth date has been maintained. Looking inside we could see they descended two of three stories with coffins stacked on top of each other. Some had large stairs winding down into a private chapel while others were narrow shafts with small ledges where the coffins were lowered to their eternal resting place.

A large bell tolled, signalling the end of visiting time. We never found the tomb of Evita Peron although I?m sure we could have followed the long line of tourists that were looking for it too. We exited through the same large gates we had entered a few hours earlier. The day was still early so we decided to wander through the neighbourhood. We didn?t get very far though. We found a trendy mall around the corner with a nice bookstore and a movie theatre. We spent a couple of relaxing hours browsing books and watching Fool?s Gold featuring Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey.