Good ol’ Fodor’s guides us through the oldest and most famous cemetery in Buenos Aires!
I still remember how it felt to pass through the white gates.
The blazing heat of high summer sent most other tourists packing, but Enko and I were determined to see this experience through. I was armed with some fascinating numbers from my Fodor’s guide. Here are some:
CEMENTERIO DE LA RECOLETA:
- Founded in 1822
- 13 and 1/2 acres
- Over 6,400 tombs
When I mention “tombs,” I am not talking about the fancy little houses we see here in the States. I am talking about miniature castles, chapels, miniature mansions, and even a pyramid or two.
Of course, many tourists head to this cemetery to visit the remains of people like Domingo Faustino Sarmiento and Juan Lavalle. This is also where (most of) the remains of Eva Peron have been put to rest, in the Duarte Family tomb. We saw the largest group of tourists here, some with expressions of reverence, and some of revulsion. I think it’s pretty much the same with most Argentinians.
Enko and I both got the chills once or twice. The thing is, after spending a few weeks in the city, you become accustomed to the hustle and bustle. Every day is full of honking horns and the sound of traffic, super social locals visiting loudly with each other, and the general cacophony of a city as big and active as Buenos Aires. Once you pass the gate of Cementerio de la Recoleta, the city fades away.
Everything fades away. It is as though you have stepped into a different planet, and it is fully populated with people who will never hear or see you, no matter how close you get.
Chilling, no? Perhaps a little?
Of course, sometimes getting close is the point. Notice the door in the photo above. An iron door was actually a feature of every tomb. You see, if you happened to be the owner of a large estate, you would purchase one of these to house the remains of you and the future generations of your family. Yes, I know it’s morbid, but here is where it gets pretty poetically beautiful. See, you would be given a key as a part of your ownership, which you would use on burial days, of course, but also if you started to feel like you were missing your loved one. Many of these tombs were built as little chapels, complete with tiny altars to go in, light a candle, and sit and offer a prayer for the soul of your loved one. I thought this idea was very beautiful, very reverent, and actually quite peaceful!
That is, of course, when you realize that these are family resting places–but a peek inside a tomb only reveals one coffin at the most! So where is everybody else?
I will now direct your attention to the little stairs on the right side of this photo. Yes stairs. Yes, downstairs. As if the sounds of the city (and life as you know it) fading away wasn’t disorienting enough, now is the moment when you realize you’ve been walking through a city for those who have passed, and the majority of them are an unknown distance beneath you! Each tomb, every single one, has a lower level. Or levels; we don’t really know.
How many lives have been touched by this cemetery? I’m pretty sure the last addition came sometime in the 1990’s, which is not all that long ago. How many people are walking around my beloved Buenos Aires right now, who have family in this cemetery? How many folks come here regularly to pray for their loved ones? It’s amazing to consider the sheer amount of time represented here. It’s an infinite amount of life, represented all by the moment when those lives stopped. And yet, somehow, it continues, with beauty and ornamentation.
The Cemeterio de la Recoleta is a beautiful place to think about death. But in a never-ending city of tombs, it also transforms itself into a place to contemplate eternity. Re-entering the city after a meditation like this enriches a tourist’s experience, and I felt primed to consider my place in the universe, as well as to start looking at my neighbors–both living and passed–the way I felt God might view them. I’m still working on this skill, but this experience was definitely a great place to start!
Have you also seen this cemetery? What kinds of things did you notice, that are worth mentioning to others who are considering making a trip? Be sure to leave your feedback in the comments!
Maggie O’the Valley
Source for adventurous reading:
Fodor’s Travel. Buenos Aires, with Side Trips to Iguazu Falls, Gaucho Country & Uruguay. 4th edition. New York, NY: Random House LLC. 2015. Print.
*This post was NOT sponsored.
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