Most people don’t like cemeteries, some with their acres of grave markers, some with only a few family plots. I’m not most people. I find cemeteries to be beautiful. There is more history found in a cemetery than taught in a classroom. Today’s cemetery is no exception and it’s not only full of the dearly departed, but it’s one of the most beautiful in the world. Let’s explore Argentina’s City of the Dead, La Recoleta Cemetery.
La Recoleta was initially converted from a convent’s garden. Franciscan Recollect monks had arrived in the early eighteenth century and they had built a convent and church in 1732. The order was disbanded in 1822, and La Recoleta became the first cemetery in Buenos Aires.
The entire cemetery covers 14 acres, contains 4691 above ground vaults, and hosts over 6,400 deceased people. The cemetery is laid out like a city, with tree lined main walkways, benches, and a map to navigate it. The majority of the mausoleums are still in use by the wealthy families in Argentina, and most are kept in pristine order. Others have fallen into disrepair. Most are able to be entered and viewed, but please do how with the utmost respect, as the cemetery is still actively used.
Here a few of the more interesting stories about some of the crypts:
Liliana Crociati de Szaszak – Liliana was honeymooning in the Alps with her new husband when sadly an avalanche occurred and killed her and her new husband. Liliana’s parents were Italian immigrants to Argentina and were grief-stricken. Her crypt is modeled on her childhood room and made entirely out of wood and glass. There is a statue of Liliana standing outside of her crypt with her dog, Sabu. Sabu died the same moment that Liliana did even though he was continents away from her.
Rufina Cambeceres – Probably one of the saddest tales from the cemetery, 19-year-old Rufina died unexpectedly in 1910. Due to weather, she was not laid to rest immediately, but was held in the chapel until the next day. The next day the workers noticed her casket was moved and the lid resituated. Fearing grave robbers, they opened the casket and found all her jewelry remained. But they also saw new bruises on her arms and legs and scratch marks on the inside of the casket. Rufina had been buried alive.
It was later discovered that she was in a sleep state known as cataplexy. It is a sudden weakening of the muscles but with full conscious awareness. It is believed that she had experienced her entire burial and when she regained control of her body, she fought to escape but died a second time when she ran out of air. It is said Rufina still is in the cemetery, and since her last moments were in terror it is understandable.
David Alleno – A former worker in the cemetery, said to have saved up his whole life to buy a grave and statue, but then committed suicide in 1960. Being a highly catholic country, David was probably not buried in the hallowed grounds, but he remains wandering the cemetery at night.
The most famous resident of La Recoleta is Eva Peron, one of the most famous First Ladies in world history. But her interment was not a simple affair, in fact it took 22 years before she was laid to rest in her family’s mausoleum in La Recoleta.
Born in 1919, Eva was 24 years old when she met her future husband Colonel Juan Peron in Argentina. They married the next year and they both became active in Argentinian politics, he by becoming president, she serving as first lady.
By 1950 Eva became ill, she had advanced stages of cervical cancer and had gotten a hysterectomy and was the first to get chemotherapy in Argentina. Sadly, she died in 1952 and received a full state funeral, over 3 million people paid their respects.
Her corpse was then displayed in her office for 2 years, while Juan had her memorial constructed. Before it was completed a military coup deposed her husband and he fled Argentina, unable to take her remains with him. Eva’s body was missing for 16 years. Eventually it was learned that she was secretly buried in Milan, Italy. Her body was exhumed in 1971, and it was discovered that her body had been damaged. Her remains were returned to Juan Peron who was living in Spain with his new wife. They displayed Eva in their dining room until they returned to Argentina. Eva remained in Spain until Juan died in 1974 and his wife, Isabel, had Eva returned to Argentina to be with her husband. 22 years after her death, Eva Peron was interred in La Recoleta Cemetery.
That my friends, has been a very brief overview of La Recoleta Cemetery. I would love to be able to explore the cemetery and view the amazing architecture and crypt designs. But also, to show respect for the dead. If you have been or will be visiting, I would love to hear any stories or see pictures you may have!