Cementerio de la Recoleta
For the living and dead alike, Recoleta is Buenos Aires’s prestige address. Its roster of cadavers represents wealth and power as surely as the residents of its Francophile mansions and luxury apartment towers hoard their assets in overseas bank accounts. Arguably, the cemetery is even more exclusive than the neighborhood—enough cash can buy an impressive residence, but not a surname such as Alvear, Anchorena, Mitre, Pueyrredón, or Sarmiento.
Seen from the air, the cemetery seems exactly what it is—an orderly necropolis of narrow alleyways lined by ornate mausoleums and crypts that mimic the architecture of Buenos Aires’s belle epoque. Crisscrossed by diagonals but with little greenery, it’s a densely depopulated area that receives hordes of Argentine and foreign tourists.
Nearly everyone visits the crypt of Eva Perón, who overcame her humble origins with a relentless ambition that brought her to the pinnacle of political power with her husband, General and President Juan Perón, before her death from cancer in 1952. Even Juan Perón, who lived until 1974 but spent most of his post-Evita years in exile, failed to qualify for Recoleta; he now reposes at his former country house at San Vicente.
There were other ways into Recoleta, though. One improbable resident is boxer Luis Angel Firpo (1894–1960), the “wild bull of the Pampas,” who nearly defeated Jack Dempsey for the world heavyweight championship in 1923. Firpo, though, had pull—thanks to sponsor Félix Bunge, a powerful landowner whose family owns some of the cemetery’s most ornate constructions.
Endless economic crises have had an impact on one of the world’s grandest graveyards, as once-moneyed families can no longer afford the maintenance of their mausoleums, but municipal authorities are making a concerted effort to restore them.
The Cementerio de la Recoleta (Junín 1790, tel. 011/4803-1594, 7 a.m.–6 p.m. daily, free admission) is the site for many guided on-demand tours through travel agencies; the municipal tourist office sponsors occasional free weekend tours.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Argentina, 3rd edition