French-style mansions, bars, restaurants, flourishing parks, an aristocratic past. The Recoleta neighbourhood in Buenos Aires is the real Paris of the south. An ambivalent barrio: life on one side, death on the other.
It is here that one of the most beautiful and important cemeteries in the world stands: the Cementerio de la Recoleta (in English, Recoleta Cemetery), built in 1822. Within its walls are the stories – and the mysteries – of the lives and deaths of women and men, young and old, poets, heroes, heroes, athletes, and presidents, …
But is that all? The theme may appear sad or even macabre. It is certainly a large monumental cemetery, with tombs and luxurious tombs in the Victorian style, housing the remains of important historical figures or families.
Many stories are told that excite, such as that of Rufina Cambacérès (1883 – 1902), born into a wealthy family, she was seized by an epileptic fit and, believed dead, was buried. A few days later, however, a watchman found the lid of Rufina’s coffin displaced and the poor young woman inside dead of asphyxiation with wounds to her hands. He had tried with his nails to open the lid of the coffin to get out. This was one of the first cases of epilepsy that occurred and were therefore unfortunately not recognised.
Then there is the grave of Liliana Crociati, of Italian origin, who died in an avalanche in 1970 at the age of 26. She is portrayed in an imposing statue with her faithful dog Sabu beside her. Also, Nobel Prize winner in chemistry Luis F. Leloir, and Napoleon Bonaparte’s granddaughter, Isabel Walewski Colonna. A vertical marble tomb is the eternal home of the military and politician Facundo Quiroga. He died in 1835 and his last wish was to be buried standing. A legend is this, but one that was verified in 2004.
The Tomb of Evita Perón
One of the most illustrious ‘residents’ is surely Evita Perón, Argentine first lady and second wife of President Juan Domingo Perón, who died of cancer in 1952 at the age of only 33. Evita Perón’s tomb certainly does not stand out for its majesty, but the story of her burial in the Recoleta Cemetery is still shrouded in mystery.
During the military regime, her body was made to disappear from Argentina so that she would not be idolised. With the arrival of democracy, it seems that Evita’s body is back here, in the pantheon of the Duarte family. Officially, Evita’s body is said to have been laid to rest in Milan’s Monumental Cemetery from 1956 until 1971. But there are also rumours that it may have been in Campagnano near Rome. However, persistent rumours claim that Evita Peron is still buried in the Dalmine cemetery. In all cases under the false name of Maria Maggi De Magistris. A great mystery of the 20th century, this one is probably destined never to be solved due to the multiple interests accompanying it.
The other side of the Recoleta Cemetery
Attractive and obscure aspects characterise the history of the Recoleta Cemetery. But the greatest fascination lies not in the majestic art of the luxurious tombs but rather in the shattered vaults, uncovered coffins covered in cobwebs and left to total neglect, dust, rubble, broken vases, dried flowers, weakened and tired fabrics. The whole is an amalgamation of colours that immerse themselves in a pastel-coloured atmosphere, becoming accurate antique paintings.