Are graveyards on your list of “places to see” when visiting a city? They should if you’re visiting Buenos Aires, Argentina’s capital city. Recoleta Cemetery is one of the main tourist attractions and it actually feels more like a museum than a cemetery.
You may wonder why a cemetery is on the top places to visit. And here’s why:
- First of all, this cemetery is home to the tombs of many famous and important people of Argentina. Recoleta Cemetery opened in 1822 as the first public cemetery and it was the resting place of Argentine high society. Some of them include: Eva Perón (former first lady), Sarmiento (Argentina’s seventh President), Julio Argentino Roca (former president, the one in the 100 pesos bills) and Victoria Ocampo (writer). The list goes on and on. Being buried here meant you were a prestigious person. Photo credit
- The architecture. The tombs were all built to impress, and demonstrate the importance and power of the dead person. The cemetery contains mausoleums elaborated with marble, decorated with art nouveau and deco statues, resembling Gothic chapels and Greek temples. You will find the most beautiful, elegant and also weird tombs. Works by famous Argentine sculptors are found in many memorials.
- The stories. The graveyard also hides stories of terrible deaths and tragedies. Every cemetery has a ghost story, and Recoleta is no exception. The most popular is the tragic death of Rufina Cambaceres, aka ‘the girl who died twice, who died in 1902 at 19 years old. She was transported to the cemetery on a rainy day and due to the weather, workers left her casket in the cemetery’s chapel to be interred later. The next day, a worker discovered the casket had been moved and the lid was out of place. Suspecting a grave robbing, the family asked that the casket be opened. When the lid was lifted, Rufina still had her jewelry in place, but the inside of the casket had been scratched and Rufina’s extremities were bruised. The horrible truth was then revealed: she had been buried alive and tried to scratch her way out of the casket in a panic. She had suffered an attack of cataplexy, which causes a comatose-like state, leading doctors to mistakenly believe she was dead. Photo credit.
- City of Dead. The cemetery’s layout was designed as a real city. Its enclosed inside a brick wall, with little plazas, city blocks, named streets and alleys. The only difference is that the houses are graves. It is one of the world’s most extraordinary graveyards, with over 6,400 mausoleums. The majority of them are well-maintained, but as it’s up to the ancestors of the deceased to maintain the tombs several can be found broken and with rubbish.
Recoleta Cemetery isn’t a hostile place at all, as you can picture any other cemetery. On the contrary, you will find yourself walking around tombs as if you were visiting an art museum: admiring and taking photos of every detail in the mausoleums, cupolas, and sculptures.
Useful tips and information:
- The entrance to the cemetery is free.
- It opens daily, 8am to 6pm.
- Free tours in English take place at 11am on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
- The closest subte stations are Retiro and Callao
- There are maps available at the main entrance.
- Avoid tourist scams. As it is a really popular place for tourists, some people may take advantage of this. If a man offers you to guide you to Evita’s tomb, he will then ask for money. I experienced this myself. There are maps at the main entrance and also free tours provided by the government of Buenos Aires.
- The cemetery is located in Recoleta, one of the nicest neighbourhoods in Buenos Aires. After visiting the cemetery you can wander around, there are other places worth visiting nearby. Read more on my complete Buenos Aires local guide.
So would you consider adding a cemetery to your list of places to visit? Have you ever been to Recoleta Cemetery?