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. La Recoleta Cemetery is one of the main tourist attractions and it actually feels more like a museum than a cemetery.
On this post you will find:
La Recoleta Cemetery history
You may wonder why a cemetery is on the top places to visit in Buenos Aires and there are many reasons for this: its history, the people who are buried there and their stories, its architecture and unique layout.
La Recoleta Cemetery opened in 1822 as the first public cemetery and it was the resting place of Argentine high society. This cemetery is home to the tombs of many famous and important people of Buenos Aires and Argentina. Important people like presidents, writers and really wealthy people were buried here. Being buried here meant you were a prestigious person.
La Recoleta Cemetery architecture
La Recoleta Cemetery design is really unique and different from any other cemeteries you’ve probably seen before. The cemetery’s layout was designed as a real city. The majority of the graves are built above ground. 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.
The mausoleums were built to impress, and demonstrate the importance and power of the dead person and its family. 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.
La Recoleta Cemetery isn’t a hostile or dark 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.
La Recoleta Cemetery famous tombs
The cemetery is home to the tombs of many famous and important people of Buenos Aires and Argentina. These are some of the most famous people buried in La Recoleta:
- Eva Perón (former first lady)
- Sarmiento (Argentina’s seventh President)
- Raúl Alfonsín (president of Argentina).
- Julio Argentino Roca (former president, the one in the $100 pesos bills)
- Arturo Umberto Illia Francesconi (president of Argentina).
- Bartolome Mitre (president of Argentina).
- Carlos Pellegrini (president of Argentina).
- Victoria Ocampo (famous writer).
- Rufina Cambaceres (daughter of argentine writer Eugenio Cambaceres and italian dancer Luisa Bacichi).
- Luis Federico Leloir (biochemist, physician, and Nobel Prize winner).
La Recoleta Cemetery ghost stories.
La Recoleta Cemetery also hides stories of terrible deaths and tragedies. Every cemetery has ghost stories, and Recoleta is no exception.
One of the most popular stories is the tragic death of Rufina Cambaceres, 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 buried later.
The next day, a worker discovered the casket had been moved and the lid was out of place. Suspecting a grave robbing (which was common because of the expensive materials used in the tombs of this cemetery), her family asked to open the casket.
Nothing had been robbed. Rufina still had her jewelry 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.
There are many other interesting legends and tragic stories which you can get to know if you take a guided walking tour.
Useful tips for visiting La Recoleta Cemetery:
- The entrance to the cemetery is free.
- It opens daily, 8am to 6pm.
- 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 official tours provided by the government of Buenos Aires.
HOW TO GET TO LA RECOLETA CEMETERY:
The cemetery is located in Recoleta, one of the fanciest 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.
You can easily reach the cemetery from any place in Buenos Aires by bus, subway or taxi.
The closest subte stations are Las Heras (línea H subway) and Pueyrredón (línea D subway). The buses that leave you close to the cemetery are: 102, 108, 130B, 37, 59-2, 60 A, 67 and 95B
La Recoleta Cemetery Guided Tours
Many tours in Buenos Aires include a visit to La Recoleta Cemetery. Taking a guided tour is great because you learn interesting insights about the cemetery and its tombs. In this tour which is only USD$10, an english speaking guide will take you through the cemetery to visit some of the most famous tombs and its stories:
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