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Category: Education

561. josé mª pizarro y monje

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, José María Pizarro y Monje

President Bernardino Rivadavia formed the Sociedad de Beneficencia in 1823 to perform charity work that had previously been the sole responsibility of the Catholic church. In spite of a rough start, by the beginning of the 20th century the organization became synonymous with the grand dames of Buenos Aires high society. It gave food & shelter to orphans, provided a role model for wayward kids, ran hospitals, & taught boys & girls “gender-based” work skills. Was this child labor? Sure. Did the elite maintain power & influence through this organization? Definitely. As a highly-visible symbol of upper class control, Perón replaced their work with the Fundación Eva Perón… & the rest is history.

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, José María Pizarro y Monje

José María Pizarro y Monje had substantial real estate holdings dating from the early 1800s. As part of the landed Argentine elite, his only daughter —Cornelia Pizarro— worked endlessly with the Sociedad de Beneficencia. She developed a friendship with President Bartolomé Mitre & became known for organizing raffles to raise funds for charity.

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, José María Pizarro y Monje

Cornelia passed away without getting married & donated her entire fortune (500,000 pesos or well over USD 1 million in today’s currency) to found an institute for orphan girls over the age of 14. Opened in 1925 & named after her father, children were taught domestic service & girls often sold their textiles to hospitals or to the general public. They even provided employment for women who had grown up in the institute but could not find work. The organization continues to provide service to the city today.

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529. una arquitectura para la muerte

Tapa, Una Arquitectura para la Muerte, 1993

References to Recoleta Cemetery appear in some unexpected places, but as one of the most recognized & visited spots in Buenos Aires I’ve always been surprised at the lack of academic research about its development. Not long ago, I obtained a copy of a book titled “Una Arquitectura para la Muerte” (An Architecture for Death) published in Spain after a 1991 conference about contemporary cemeteries around the world. This large body of work compiles all the research from that conference & first became available two years later in 1993.

Recoleta Cemetery got some much-deserved space with two separate articles. The first was written by team of authors—María Rosa Cicciari, Marcelo Huernos, Rubén Lasso & Carla Wainsztok—who worked in conjunction with the Instituto Histórico de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires. I’m surprised that I never heard of them since I often went to find info at the Instituto Histórico. Anyway, La muerte en el imaginario social en Buenos Aires does its best to favor the less exclusive Chacarita Cemetery but also presents quite a few interesting facts about Recoleta Cemetery that I’ve had trouble confirming exact dates or never knew…

  • Funeral carriages often took a route down Calle Florida to Recoleta Cemetery so everyone could participate in mourning along the most famous street in Buenos Aires.
  • Bodies were wrapped in sheets due to a lack of caskets during the yellow fever epidemic that gave birth to Chacarita Cemetery.
  • The Estación Fúnebre Bermejo existed at the intersection of Calle Ecuador (formerly named Bermejo) & Avenida Corrientes to handle the transfer of the deceased by train to Chacarita, complete with offices & rooms for autopsies.
  • A trolley line for Recoleta Cemetery began service in 1870, prior to the Lacroze line to Chacarita which commenced operation in 1888.
  • The first cremation in Buenos Aires took place due to a cholera epidemic & became a standardized procedure in 1886.
  • A 1923 city ordinance prohibited a public funeral service in Recoleta Cemetery with a later transfer of the deceased to another burial location. Evidently the social status of being buried in Recoleta Cemetery generated a few odd practices like this one.
  • Home wakes continued until the early 20th century, like that of Domingo Faustino Sarmiento. They state that funeral homes didn’t really catch on until 1960!

Familia Leloir, architectural diagrams

The second article—Arquitectura funeraria de Buenos Aires, La Recoleta by María Beatriz Arévalo & María del Carmen Magaz—starts with a lengthy history of cemeteries in Spanish territories & the creation of Recoleta Cemetery. The authors then group funeral architecture into trends based either on nationality (English, Italian & French) or by period (Art Nouveau, for example). AfterLife has covered most every topic discussed in the article, but one quote stood out for me… the basis for their research stemmed from a 1989 art history conference that outlined the conditions for every modern cemetery:

Por un lado pasa a ser una reducción simbólica de la ciudad, en segundo término es una galería donde la comunidad conserva la memoria de sus grandes hombres y, por último, es un ámbito donde desarrollar el arte.

On one hand it should be a symbolic reduction of the city, in second place a gallery space where the community preserves the memory of its great men and, lastly, a place for art to develop.

That happens to be the perfect response when anyone asks themselves: why would I visit a cemetery?


513. raimundo wilmart de glymes de hollebecque

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Raimundo Wilmart de Glymes de Hollebecque

Tucked away in the seemingly infinite rows of mausoleums in the southern corner of the cemetery, the little information online about Raimundo Wilmart is as surprising as his full name is long.

Born in 1850 in Jodoigne-Souveraine, a small town in the center of Belgium, Wilmart arrived in Argentina at the age of 22. He had a single purpose: to visit the Asociación Internacional del Trabajo (AIT). Recently formed, the industrial union followed European principles based on ideas put forth by Marx & Engels. In short, Raimundo Wilmart came to Argentina to see if scientific socialism was being put into practice in Argentina.

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Raimundo Wilmart de Glymes de Hollebecque

Wilmart had previously attended the 1872 AIT conference in The Hague where he was commissioned to travel to Argentina. Immediately after arrival, he scoped out the situation & wrote three letters to Marx. The Argentine AIT had 250 members at the time, but proletarian struggle failed to unite the group. Wilmart reported that the group constantly separated into national cliques, based on the immigrant’s country of origin. He even handed out free copies of Das Kapital but felt like no one ever read the book!

Disappointed, Wilmart planned to return to Europe but never did. After studying law in Córdoba, he moved up in social circles & became a judge in Mendoza. In 1899, Wilmart returned to Buenos Aires & joined the law school faculty. He even formed part of the committee which failed to approve the doctoral thesis of Socialist Alfredo Palacios… Wilmart made a 180º turn in his politics, supporting capitalism & failing to sympathize with factory workers.

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Héctor de Glymes de Hollebecque

Wilmart visited his homeland in 1909, returned to Argentina & died in Buenos Aires in 1937. Letters he received from Karl Marx were lost forever, burned by his daughter in fear of tarnishing her father’s reputation.


509. otto krause

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Otto Krause

Born in 1856, Otto Krause grew up in Chivilcoy, a town about two hours west of Buenos Aires. Both his parents arrived from Prussia & worked hard to make the small town grow. Sarmiento spoke at the opening of a local church in 1857 & impressed Krause’s father so much that newborn twins were christened with the names Domingo & Faustino!

Education—a central theme in the life of Krause—took him to Buenos Aires where he graduated from the School of Exact Sciences. Afterwards he became one of Argentina’s first civil engineers with a dissertation about railroad traction. It got him noticed & was soon hired to work on several sections of Argentina’s rapidly expanding rail network. Krause even designed the railway workshops in Tolosa for the Ferrocarril del Sud… not as grand as those in Remedios de Escalada but useful until the 1940s when engineers designed a new, modern steam engine there.

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Otto Krause, stained glass

After several years of teaching at the University of Buenos Aires, Krause established a high school focused on training students for industrial careers. He saw the rapid development of German technical know-how as a model for Argentina’s future. Krause also began reformulating curriculums all over the nation, as well as traveling to Europe to investigate the newest tech schools. In 1909 he was named director of the Escuela Industrial de la Nación & inaugurated the new building in Buenos Aires:

Escuela Industrial de la Nación Otto Krause

Escuela Industrial de la Nación Otto Krause

Krause continued to work in various government capacities until his death in 1920. The school he helped found adopted his name in 1925, & many important figures have since studied there such as architect Alejandro Bustillo. The school even had Luis Perlotti as Art Director for several years in the 1940s.

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365. domingo faustino sarmiento ◊

Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, Recoleta Cemetery

As the only occupant of Recoleta Cemetery marked with signposts, Sarmiento is widely recognized as one of the most important figures in Argentine history:

Sarmiento, Recoleta Cemetery

Born in 1811 while Argentina struggled for independence, Domingo Sarmiento spent his early years voraciously reading & studying. It would set the tone for his life. By the age of 15, he founded a school in his native province of San Juan… all students were naturally older than he was at the time.

Due to civil war & local caudillo Facundo Quiroga, Sarmiento fled in exile to Chile in 1831 where he continued his educational activities. That period was spent between marriage, founding the Universidad de Chile, running a newspaper, & being sent on behalf of the Chilean government to the United States to study its primary education system.

AGN, Presidente Sarmiento

Sarmiento returned to Argentina 20 years later as an authority in education. Anti-Rosas to the core, he later aligned with Bartolomé Mitre while serving as Senator. Accompanying General Wenceslao Paunero to the Cuyo region, Sarmiento governed his native province of San Juan then returned to the U.S. as Argentina’s ambassador. Unfortunately his adopted son was killed in the War of the Triple Alliance while he was away. Back home in 1868 & under no political party, Sarmiento was elected President with Adolfo Alsina as his running mate. After one term in the Casa Rosada, he continued to serve Argentina in number of governmental & educational posts.

Late in life, Sarmiento moved to Asunción for health reasons. He passed away on Sept 11, 1888, & that day is now commemorated as Teacher’s Day. The most accessible portrait of Sarmiento can be found on an older version of the 50 peso bill, but he was also the subject of one of the most publicized death portraits in Argentine history. Those portraits were commonly used to mark important events & released to the press. Sarmiento “posed” for this photo a few hours after his death surrounded by objects of daily use… including his chamber pot:

AGN, death portrait, Sarmiento

Sarmiento was then brought by boat to Buenos Aires & buried in Recoleta Cemetery. In a crypt designed by Italian sculptor Victor de Pol, the base of the obelisk contains two reliefs: one of Mercury (Roman god of communications) & Sarmiento with children holding books. The French phrase “on ne tue point les idées” was inscribed by Sarmiento on a stone in the Andes Mountains when he fled to Chile: “One never kills ideas”:

Sarmiento, Recoleta Cemetery

Sarmiento, Recoleta Cemetery

Plaques once covered the obelisk itself (as seen below) but were later placed on the side wall when they outnumbered available space. The bust has also been removed. Hidden behind a potted plant is a reminder that Sarmiento once participated in the Grand Lodge of Argentina:

AGN, Sarmiento, Recoleta Cemetery

Sarmiento, Recoleta Cemetery

Sarmiento, Recoleta Cemetery

A condor, native to the Andes Mountains & symbolic of Sarmiento’s contributions to Chile & Argentina, crowns the obelisk. At the bird’s feet is a bit of barely legible, cursive text. It reads Civilización y Barbarie, the title of Sarmiento’s definitive work against Quiroga:

Sarmiento, Recoleta Cemetery

Of course Sarmiento was no saint & displayed some negative traits of his time: racism & a bit of an addiction to power. But historians have chosen to focus on the positive. This tomb was declared a National Historic Monument in 1946.