The list of occupants of Recoleta Cemetery reads like a Who’s Who of Argentine history & society. The elite, an aspiring middle class, friends, enemies & those who contributed to the general welfare of Argentina all share space in a miniature city of mausoleums & monuments.
During a visit, you’ll stroll past Presidents & politicians (some naughty, some nice), Nobel Prize winners, literary greats, entertainers, scientists, military leaders, sports figures & even some who died tragically. The cemetery’s most famous resident, Eva María Duarte de Perón —simply Evita to her devotées— even had a bizarre post-mortem journey before finally resting in peace in Recoleta.
Born in Buenos Aires in 1815, Juan Andrés Gelly y Obes had a high-ranking diplomat & lawyer for a father. His family emigrated from Paraguay to Argentina for political reasons, & after the birth of Juan Andrés they had to move to Montevideo in 1830. Father & son fought side by side against the relentless sieges of Rosas. Those early struggles no doubt inspired Gelly y Obes to enlist in the Argentine Legion at the age of 24.
Although reaching the rank of Lt. Coronel, Montevideo would later lose all its appeal: his father moved to Brazil & his mother died after being near a grenade explosion while visiting his position. He considered joining his father & returning to Paraguay, but in the end became a politician/military man in Buenos Aires. A long friendship with Bartolomé Mitre, begun in Montevideo, influenced his career for the rest of his life.
During Mitre’s presidency, Gelly y Obes was named Minister of the Army & Navy but resigned to lead troops in person during the War of the Triple Alliance. When Argentine forces began to sack Asunción, he stepped down based on family connections there; some Paraguayans even wanted him to be their next President. In the end, he continued service in Congress in Buenos Aires & was reinstated in the military in 1877… to be removed again in 1880 after participating in a revolution with Mitre. Amazingly, this pattern would repeat itself when Julio Argentino Roca reinstated Gelly y Obes only to be dismissed again after supporting the Revolución del Parque in 1890.
Later reinstated, Gelly y Obes served on Argentina’s top military council & supported the modernization of the military under General Pablo Riccheri. He passed away in 1904 at the age of 89 after a lifetime of service with no equal other than perhaps that of his friend Mitre! This Neogothic mausoleum sits near the rear wall of the cemetery & declared a National Historic Monument in 1946.
Born in Poland in 1839, Jordan Czeslaw Wysocki graduated from a technical/engineering school & began his professional life by helping design the railway connecting Warsaw to St. Petersburg. Later in life on the losing side of an uprising against the Russian empire in 1862-63, he sought refuge in France. After work on the Paris-Bordeaux rail line, a Polish coworker suggested that Wysocki should go with him to Argentina & try his luck there. In 1867, he & his wife & daughter arrived in Buenos Aires.
Wysocki would later design the main building of the botanical park in Buenos Aires, also located in Palermo:
Minister of War Adolfo Alsina promoted Wysocki to Sergeant Major & commissioned a topographic study of the Pampa… as preparation to build a 374 km trench used to keep territory away from the Mapuche tribe. Continuing work in Trenque Lauquen in the Province of Buenos Aires, much of his subdivision of the fertile grasslands is still used today.
After several more promotions, defensive projects & even receiving a medal of honor, Wysocki passed away in 1883 at the age of 44 with a rank of Lieutenant Coronel. He had traveled all the way to the border of Patagonia to help delineate & give order to a vast, growing nation. Unfortunately the location of his grave in a closed section of niches in Recoleta Cemetery makes his legacy to Argentina less visible & accessible to the visitor.
Born in 1866 in Lanciego —a small town in the southern Basque region of Álava, near the border with La Rioja— Lorenzo Fernández de Viana began his artistic career as a cabinet maker… but soon moved on to bigger & better things. After obtaining grants to study in Madrid & Paris, he returned to the local capital of Vitoria to open the only sculpture workshop in the city. As a result, his art decorates the new cathedral & he even taught aspiring students.
Viana left it all for Argentina in 1912, accompanied by his three daughters. His timing could not have been more perfect, with Argentina booming & numerous cities requesting European artists to decorate the nation. Viana’s stay in America was brief, but he left behind works in Mar de Plata & Buenos Aires. Gaze up to the Constitución train station to find representations of Agriculture & Commerce… fitting since this was the gateway to the Pampas (photo below). On their return to the Basque Country in 1916, his family moved to Bilbao where Viana passed away ten years later in 1926.
During the height of the pandemic, the Museum of Fine Arts in Álava found this blog & requested to use photos from the tomb of Adolfo Alsina in an upcoming exhibition. Viana was responsible for several reliefs depicting scenes from Alsina’s life. Always happy to assist, I was pleased to contribute & receive a catalog. If you’re in Vitoria, visit the free exhibition because they’ve done a wonderful job in rescuing the memory of such a great artist (runs until 20 Mar 2022).
Chano Moreno Charpentier —the music world knows him as just Chano— headlined the popular Argentine group Tan Biónica from 2002 until their break up in 2016. For over a decade they have released hit after hit, enjoying phenomenal success. Chano publicly distanced himself from the group & embarked on a solo career but has been surrounded by scandal. Among the more publicized cases are: physical & psychological abuse of an ex-girlfriend, attempted robbery, car accidents & being shot after attacking police with a knife under the influence of drugs. Quite the role model.
Chano recently turned 40 & is making a comeback once again. YouTube algorithms picked up on this & have been showing me older videos of Tan Biónica when then it appeared… our second music video filmed in Recoleta Cemetery. Although just a lyric video, all scenes for “Víctimas” were shot with a hand-held camera inside the cemetery & highlight some of the more famous sculptures: