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Endless Mile, Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery guide

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.

Want to learn more? Get all the details in our recommended may & 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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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.


375. cuidadores

Vista, Recoleta Cemetery

In spite of its grandeur, Recoleta Cemetery is not very large. It is only as big as four city blocks, but more than 4,700 tombs & mausoleums can be found among its narrow walkways. Smaller plots have only one coffin while larger ones can have more than 50. To maintain them all —checking drainage pipes, fixing floors, trimming trees & an endless list of other chores— there are some 65 caretakers… very nice people, passionate about the cemetery & who in several occasions act as guides for the unavoidable tourist who wants to know the quickest way to the tomb of Eva Perón.

A simple bit of math reveals that each caretaker has the responsiblity to maintain about 70 tombs, large or small.  Not all of those tombs are cleaned or cared for since some families do not pay the corresponding maintenance fee —according to the official Buenos Aires city government website currently 48 pesos or about US$ 12.50 per square meter. Tombs not paid for are neglected by caretakers. The reason, according to one of the cemetery workers, is simple: each caretaker receives as their salary a percentage of what the tomb owner pays to the city government. And in many cases, due to the number of mausoleums in any particular sector which pay no taxes, the money provided to caretakers per month is very little… less than 500 pesos or US$ 130 at the current exchange rate.

Tools of the trade, Recoleta Cemetery

Some of the biggest vaults, like that of the Familia Leloir, also pay the aguinaldo (a year-end bonus equivalent to one month’s salary) to the city which ends up going to the caretaker. In addition, some families give extra cash directly to the caretaker to ensure better maintenance… a tip of sorts.

Caretakers appear everywhere in the cemetery, visible at any time of day. They are easily recognized by their gray workclothes & their characteristic way of referring to the cemetery:  the capacity of a vault is measured in “beds,” not coffins, & the dead who occupy them are “tenants.”

What unites them, as mentioned in the beginning of this post, is their love for Recoleta Cemetery. And their dream, their personal utopia, might just be reaching the status of the most famous caretaker of them all: David Alleno, the only cemetery worker who is buried there.