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Endless Mile, Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery guide

A list of occupants inside 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 this self-guided 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.

Want to learn more? Get all the details in our recommended map & pdf guide. The authors of this blog are proud to have guided more than 1,500 people through Recoleta Cemetery… join in!

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597. enrique prack

Recoleta Cemetery, Enrique Prack, Buenos Aires

A rare family document appeared on Facebook, & the owner kindly gave us permission to share it here as well. This boleto de sepultura —roughly translated as a “burial certificate”— has many interesting bits of information, but first a translation:

No. 69

The Municipality of the city of Buenos Aires has sold in perpetuity, under the conditions outlined below, the sixth gravesite, No. 32 of Section 2 in the Northern Cemetery to Mr. Enrique Prack who has paid the Tax Office the sum of seven thousand pesos; this document should be registered by the Administrator of the above-mentioned cemetery.

#1 · No other sale or transfer of this property will be recognized except those with the right of succession.
#2 · Aforementioned transfers may only be granted by the Municipality, via official request and with corresponding information.

[handwritten note] At 15:00, to the right of the second street.

Buenos Aires, 11 January 1884

[followed by illegible signatures… there’s a Belgrano & a Mariano Obarrio.]

Unfortunately the exact size of the plot is not recorded, but the price of 7,000 pesos in 1884 was a small fortune! Of course, determining an equivalent amount in terms of today’s purchasing power is tricky.

According to the Banco Central, the peso had almost the same value as the English sovereign at the time. So the Prack family invested 7,000 pounds for their plot; a considerable sum given that one of the extremely wealthy members of the Anchorena family died in 1884 with a fortune of 7 million pesos. If that’s the top tier of wealth in Argentina at that moment, this purchase represents a sizeable sum of money.

Recoleta Cemetery, Enrique Prack, Buenos Aires

Also of interest is a legal clause stating the plot belongs to the family forever. Well, almost. Given that Catholic cemeteries are considered sacred places, contracts like the above should be considered leases. Even so, the city government made a large profit from the proceeds of plot sales. Remember that a major renovation of the cemetery took place in 1881, & the city likely needed income to cover construction costs.

Enrique Prack (son, I believe) was a lawyer & wrote his thesis on crime & ideas behind penal codes. The mausoleum continues to be maintained by family descendants.

Recoleta Cemetery, Enrique Prack, Buenos Aires

Note: Document image used with kind permission of the Prack family.

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569. sepulcros históricos nacionales

Sepulcros Históricos Nacionales, Oscar Andrés De Masi

How does a simple burial place transform into a national monument? Oscar Andrés de Masi answers this question by examining the archives & internal debates of the first organization created to watch over Argentina’s complicated legacy.

Preservation & maintenance of historical/cultural heritage became a major concern for many countries at the beginning of the 20th century. National commissions around the world formed in order to control, recover & spread the word about those places which helped form the unique identity of each country. Argentina established the Comisión Nacional de Museos y Lugares Históricos in 1938 to manage this huge undertaking.

Buenos Aires, Cabildo, Argentina

Fully operational by 1940, funerary heritage had yet to become part of the broader definition of national heritage. At first only founding fathers & their families were deemed worthy of such commemoration, but questions soon began to emerge. What if the person’s remains had been moved after burial? Does the empty tomb still constitute national heritage? Who has jurisdiction over those remains: family descendants or the nation?

Eventually the nation claimed all rights, & cenotaphs were also considered patrimony. The definition of who to include grew as well, as later decades added other figures who had left a mark on Argentine society. Early years of the CNMLH also revived the idea of building a National Pantheon (1834 design by Italian architect Carlo Zucchi pictured below), but in the end Recoleta Cemetery took over that function.

Carlo Zucchi, Panteón Nacional, Argentina
Carlo Zucchi, Panteón Nacional, Argentina
Both images from a 3D virtual recreation of Zucchi’s proposed National Pantheon by Marcela Andruchow, Mercedes Morita & Amalia Delucchi

The most valuable part of the book contains photographs of 35 tombs —the majority in Recoleta Cemetery— taken by the Hans Mann photo studio in 1944. Commissioned for use in a book to be published by the CNMLH, these pictures came to light in 2010 during a reorganization of the Commission’s photo archive:

Hans Mann, Marco Avellaneda
The mausoleum of Marco Avellaneda… when it was maintained & had a tree!
Hans Mann, Brigadier General José María Paz, Eduardo Lonardi
The tomb of Brigadier General José María Paz… before it became the tomb of Teniente General Eduardo Lonardi!

Overall book design could be better, but one criticism above all: a list of all declared funeral heritage sites is in alphabetical order… by first name or by title. This methodology makes the list difficult for a reader to use. See the sample page below where titles like canónigo, capitan or coronel come first. Our list for Recoleta Cemetery is organized by year of decree + last name.

Sepulcros Históricos Nacionales, Oscar Andrés De Masi

Many thanks to Marcelo for finding this book published in 2012 & shipping it twice to Spain!

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556. covid-19 closure

As the coronavirus makes its way to Argentina, staff at Recoleta Cemetery are taking preventative measures to ensure everyone’s health & safety. As of 13 Mar 2020, the cemetery is CLOSED until further notice to all tourists. Below are two official communiques from Recoleta Cemetery:

We’ll let you know when they reopen, but in the meantime feel free to take a virtual visit by scanning through over 550 posts on this blog. More important: stay healthy & respect recommendations by health care officials. Recoleta Cemetery will be waiting for you when this health emergency ends!

Update (Dec 2021): Recoleta Cemetery is now open for all visitors & with regular hours of operation!

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383. tombs for sale

Mercado Libre ad

Something perhaps not all visitors realize is that Recoleta Cemetery is not a museum with permanent exhibits. Burials & ceremonies still occur & although there is something built on every square meter, it remains possible to find a burial spot there. According to real estate agents in the area, between 10-20% of the cemetery’s vaults are always for sale at any given time. In other words between 500-1,000 lots… quite a large number.

But Recoleta is not cheap… not the neighborhood nor its famous cemetery. An easy way to understand its relative cost is by looking at the rates charged by the city government for a burial niche. In Chacarita & Flores, the other large cementeries in Buenos Aires [also administered by the city], a first row niche costs 55 pesos per year & in Recoleta they charge 398 pesos… 720% more!

The same kind of price scheme applies to vaults. The majority are discreetly sold by real estate agencies in the area —obviously a “for sale” sign would never appear on a vault— but they can be purchased online through sites like Mercado Libre [the Argentine equivalent of eBay], & a greater price difference between cemeteries can be seen. A vault with 18 coffin beds costs US$ 16,000 in Chacarita & US$ 39,000 in Recoleta. The ads get your attention: “wrought-iron door, chapel with double altar, stained glass, marble staircase.” Luxurious. Although even that is not as expensive as it gets. There are vaults for sale which cost up to US$ 150,000.

Of course the largest & most famous vaults are priceless… & in those cases the family usually does everything possible to hold on to them. If anyone dreams about ending their days in Recoleta Cemetery, the only available option is to find a mid- to lower price range vault.