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.
The difficulties of researching Recoleta Cemetery have been well documented in this blog. Whether due to copyright infringement, repetition of hearsay with no attempt at critical thinking or pure invention & disregard to fact, all these problems present a disservice to one of the most spectacular sites of Buenos Aires.
Perhaps the most difficult issue to overcome is access to previous publications about the cemetery. Print runs in Argentina are notoriously small, often around 3,000 copies… in a capital city with almost 15 million people & a national population of 45 million! During the 14 years I lived there, I’d scout bookstores each month with the hope of obtaining new resources before they disappeared from sight. Much like a treasure hunt —fun but not practical for most.
Libraries presented another problem: resource material spread across the entire city with incomplete collection catalogs. After finding a good publication, I would read the bibliography in detail for additional leads. However, sources mentioned were often unavailable, in private collections or worse, completely missing. Also, most library staff had insufficient knowledge of holdings or lacked initiative to help users discover additional information. Budget cuts also affected operating hours. Navigating the system took more time than actual reading!
Fortunately the digital age has improved the availability of early texts about Recoleta Cemetery. A recent search on Scribd revealed two gems from the 1990s that I never found in physical form…
Although without a publication date, Recoleta: Cementerio, Arte e Historia contains a prologue signed by Fernando de la Rúa… acting as head of the Buenos Aires city government. That means this 36-page booklet had to be published sometime between 1996 & 1999. Also oddly missing is the author’s name; credit goes to a large number of public officials.
What a shame this publication was not reedited or reproduced in later years! I would have loved an introduction like this on my first cemetery visit. After a brief overview, a hand-drawn map —with correct dimensions— marks 50 tombs of interest. If the route were followed by number, quite a bit of backtracking would be involved. But that’s a minor issue.
Text for each point of interest is brief but with good & surprisingly neutral information about people who were often anything but neutral 😉 Interesting photographs accompany most descriptions. An updated version of this guide in several languages would have been a best-seller at the cemetery entrance gate during the tourism boom of the early 2000s:
Unfortunately this publication has been delegated to the city government’s library & will likely never return.
Issue #5 published by the Board of Historic Studies of Recoleta (Junta de Estudios Históricos de La Recoleta) had a complicated title… something akin to “Recoleta Cemetery: Unraveling its Sites”. The 1970s witnessed a birth of local historical associations, often composed of self-appointed elite who supported a particular vision of their neighborhood. Cemetery heritage director Carlos Francavilla co-authored this 42-page booklet with architect Victor Villasuso. 63 points of interest dot their map marked with a very clear walking route:
Descriptive text & photographs do not mingle; each have their own dedicated pages. In general, mausoleums receive elaborate architectural explanations —so much so that a glossary is included at the end— while occupants & their deeds are secondary.
While interesting for its choice of mausoleums (several of which are rarely mentioned in other guidebooks), overly simple design makes this publication difficult to use as does such grandiloquent language. Oddly cropped photographs also fail to highlight the beauty of mausoleums. Consider this a secondary resource for those interested in lengthy architectural descriptions rather than a practical guide.
Signed by Italian architect Aldo Antonio Gaetano Flándoli, this striking Roman temple replica fails to attract much attention from visitors due to its location: a small walkway off a main path. The grandeur is also difficult to appreciate in such tight quarters but fortunately we have some artwork at eye level to appreciate.
Statues in the triangular pediment above as well as two door reliefs below are signed by another Italian immigrant, Troiano Troiani. The four Evangelists —Mark, Luke, John & Matthew— with their corresponding symbols flank larger depictions of Jesus & Mary. The descent of Christ from the cross is also shown in a lower center relief. Other works by Troiani in Recoleta Cemetery include a massive statue topping the Familia Manuel Cerini tomb as well as sculptures for the Familia D’onofrio. These are no less spectacular:
My main question is who are the Peiranos & how did they afford such a luxurious final resting place? Instinct leads me to believe they are part of the Uruguay-based Peirano family, known for owning a huge number of businesses in South America including banks, public transportation plus supermarket chains Santa Isabel in Chile & Disco in Argentina (often gathered under the Grupo Velox brand). Uruguayan courts found three of four Peirano brothers guilty of money laundering & fraud in 2013… but are their relatives here in Buenos Aires?
The only plaque on the mausoleum lists four burials from the mid-20th century, with no trace of anyone on the internet. If you have information about Elitreo Strucchi, Margarita D’Abové de Peirano, Antonio Peirano or Luisa Subazzoli de Strucchi —or any of the Peiranos— please let us know!
Born in Montevideo in 1851, the Cané family returned to Argentina when Miguel was only two years old. Their self-imposed exile from Rosas likely influenced the young Cané to become involved in Argentine politics, but he also left behind a body of literature that reflected the spirit of a new nation discovering itself.
In the 1860s, Cané attended the prestigious Colegio Nacional de Buenos Aires along with classmates who would also become leaders of Argentina. With a new curriculum directed by Amadeo Jacques, twenty years later Cané would look back on his time there & write a memoir titled Juvenilia:
After participating in the War of the Triple Alliance, Cané accompanied his cousin on an extended trip to Europe. He also became a European correspondent for the newspapers La Tribuna & El Nacional while on the road, covering conflicts & recording his experiences. Travelogues were all the rage & allowed Argentine readers to get a vicarious taste of travel.
On his return, Cané married & had two children then graduated from law school. His political career began as mayor of Buenos Aires. Eventually Cané crossed over to national politics & served in Congress as well as became ambassador to Colombia & Venezuela in 1893 under the presidency of Luis Saénz Peña. The largest plaque on his mausoleum reminds visitors that he became president of the influential Jockey Club in 1894. After many years of public service, Cané passed away in 1905. His neglected tomb sits along a major walkway in the cemetery, barely attracting the attention of tourists on route to see the nearby burial place of Eva Perón:
This article appeared in the online edition of the Kennesaw State University official student newspaper. Although this Georgia university publication has received awards & praise, there are a few major errors in this article that warrant some fact-checking & revision…
Cemetery built in Buenos Aires due to yellow fever to sell with Covid
In 1871, Buenos Aires experienced a serious health crisis. Struck by yellow fever, the Argentine capital saw the only two cemeteries in the city at the time overflowing at the very start of the epidemic.
Faced with death figures rising to 700 a day, authorities saw no other solution than to hastily open a new cemetery – that of Chacarita, which ended up receiving most of the 18,000 victims. of disease. At the time, Buenos Aires had no more than 180,000 inhabitants.
Comment: City historians generally estimate the number of yellow fever victims as 14,000, or 10% of the population of Buenos Aires, with burials taking place first in the Southern Cemetery & later in Chacarita Cemetery.
Today, 150 years later, expanded and with new areas intended only for those killed by the coronavirus, Chacarita cemetery is once again on the edge. The employees, members of the park and cemetery workers union, have asked the Ministry of Labor to be vaccinated as soon as possible, otherwise they will participate in a nationwide strike and stop collecting bodies and taking them to their graves.
“We were classified as essential from the first moment because we had to keep working to keep the flow of burials going. Now, at the time of vaccination, we are not considered essential and we go to the end of the line,” says Folha Salvador Valente, from Soecra (Union of Cemeteries Workers and Employees of the Argentine Republic).
“It’s not fair, we are much more exposed than the general population, we are on the front lines, as doctors, and we have already lost many colleagues.”
Comment: The SOECRA union secretary is Salvador Valente. Folha is a Portuguese word that means “leaf”, “sheet of paper” or “page”. Oh, I know where this is going…
A first request for priority vaccination and additional protective equipment, made in January, was refused by the government. For this reason, cemetery workers returned to register the same demand this week, now with the threat of a strike. If it is a national problem, it is in the metropolitan area of Buenos Aires, epicenter of the pandemic in Argentina, that the situation is most serious.
The traditional cemetery of Recoleta has been crowded for some time and today it functions more as an open-air museum, as it no longer receives new burials. There is also a more popular cemetery in the Flores neighborhood – another opening up an exclusive area for the dead by Covid – which, like Chacarita, is saturated.
Comment: Completely false that Recoleta Cemetery no longer receives new burials. It is still a functioning cemetery.
La Chacarita is the largest in the city in activity and one of the most emblematic of the Argentine capital. He buried the idol of the tango Carlos Gardel, the writer Roberto Arlt, the plastic artist Antonio Berni and the composer Enrique Santos Discépolo, among other celebrities.
The cemetery also housed the body of Juan Domingo Perón for many years, until his grave was attacked, and the hands of the former president uprooted and stolen, in 1987. The reason for the crime and the fate of the Perón’s hands remain unknown, in another mysterious story of local politics.
“Chacarita is an Argentinian heritage. It is the cemetery that is home to popular culture icons, football players, tangueiros, actors, in addition to Perón to a certain extent. [após o sequestro das mãos, o resto do corpo foi levado a uma propriedade particular da família]“If the Recoleta cemetery is that of the aristocratic elite of the 19th century, that of Chacarita is that of popular culture,” says historian Felipe Pigna.
Comment: More random Portuguese! So this article was lifted from the Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo. But why use a Brazil source for an article about Argentina? Odd to say the least.
For the researcher, it is important to preserve the cemetery both as a place of functioning and as a memory of the porteños. “As much as the current pandemic is causing great suffering to the city, we must remember the nightmare of yellow fever and how frightened the people were. At that time, it was not known that the disease was transmitted by a mosquito. There was an important crisis policy and even the president [Domingo Faustino] Sarmiento left town, “Pugna recalls.” Buenos Aires was in charge of a commission of notables, doctors, politicians, who were also dying.
The historian recalls that at that time, the so-called “death train” also circulated in the city, a locomotive of a wagon that crossed the Argentine capital to pick up the dead from their homes.
Valente, from the cemetery workers union, recalls that today they collect corpses from their homes and accompany them to the grave. “Due to the current protocol, only a loved one can be present at the funeral, in addition to one of our employees. In other words, our role in this pandemic is essential,” he recalls. “There are private funeral homes that had to close because all the employees were infected. We are working overtime and at our limit. We want the vaccine so that we don’t have to interrupt our work.
In response, the government claims to be assessing demand, but Argentina suffers from a vaccine shortage. The main government contract with the Russian laboratory Gamaleia has been delayed and deliveries of the Sputnik V immunizer are taking too long. Likewise, drugs purchased from AstraZeneca and Chinese Sinopharm arrive in smaller quantities than promised.
So far Argentina has only vaccinated 15% of the population with one dose and 2% with both.
Glaring errors aside, cemetery workers should be considered frontline workers just like health care providers. They provide an essential service in normal times & even more so during a pandemic.