La Recoleta Cemetery, originally built outside the city but today located in the upscale Recoleta neighborhood, was Buenos Aires’ first public cemetery. However, over the years it became the final resting place of many of Argentina’s rich, powerful and illustrious, such as presidents, politicians, writers, actors, scientists and athletes.
The 14-acre walled cemetery is laid out like a city, with tree-lined avenues and narrow alleyways separating its tightly packed blocks of fantastic tombs and mausoleums. There's a dizzying array of statues and structures built in Baroque, Neo-Gothic, Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles, many of them fashioned from marble and other rich materials imported from Europe.
You'll see angels made of stone, cherubs, Egyptian obelisks, Doric columns and domes – all beautiful, exquisite and sad in this modern open-air museum of art, history and memory. Many stand as testaments to Buenos Aires’ Golden Age, from 1880 to 1930, when the city was one of the world’s richest.
Juan A. Gregorini's grave at La Recoleta Cemetery — Photo courtesy of HalloweenHJB
The most famous of the tombs is that of former First Lady Eva Perón (known as "Evita"). In addition to Evita, other notable residents include Argentine Presidents Bartolome Mitré, Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, José Figueroa Alcorta and Carlos Pellegrini – who have all had streets named after them in the capital – as well as writers Silvina Ocampo, Victoria Ocampo and José Hernández.
There's a map at the cemetery entrance noting the location of the different tombs, if you're looking for someone in particular. Otherwise, it is a good idea to leisurely wander about the place, soaking up the atmosphere and stopping to better examine the mausoleums and tombs that attract you.
You can also take a tour to better understand some of the people and stories that rest here. Most of the city’s tour companies and tour guides are only too happy to take you on a tour of the cemetery. However, the cemetery is so large that if you want to explore on your own, you can easily avoid other visitors and groups, except in front of certain tombs, such as Evita’s.
Almost 100 of the cemetery’s vaults have been declared national monuments and deemed under the Argentine government’s protection. Others have been left to private care. This means that some are immaculately kept, while a few languish with broken glass doors and abandoned food wrappers behind them.
Make no mistake, though. La Recoleta Cemetery is arguably the most beautiful cemetery in the world, and any Buenos Aires itinerary should include a visit there.