Skip to content

Category: Current events

558. the future of cemetery tourism

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery

Recoleta Cemetery remains closed to visitors for the time being. But in the spirit of our last post & of armchair travel –all that’s available at the moment– we’d like to share some our other favorite cemeteries from around the world, along with a few suggestions for the future of travel as it relates to cemeteries.

Tourism will change as a result of the pandemic, but that’s good… the industry is long overdue for new paradigms. Crowded museums & big-ticket expositions will likely become a thing of the past. Travellers may search for less-crowded sites to explore & as open-air museums with little public, cemeteries provide a perfect alternative.

One concept that should disappear along with coronavirus is the outdated notion that a kind of world cemetery hierarchy exists. Somewhere, someone invented a statement that Recoleta Cemetery ranks as one of the most important in the world, along with Père Lachaise in Paris & Staglieno in Genoa. On who’s authority? To our chagrin, that tired comparison has been copied & pasted as much as “Buenos Aires is the Paris of South America”:

la Recoleta es considerado uno de los tres cementerios más importantes del mundo, junto al Pére Lachaise, de París, y el Staglieno, de Génova

Renombrado como uno de los cementerios más monumentales del mundo junto con Père Lachaise en las afueras de París y la Colina de Staglieno en Génova

Es uno de los más importantes del mundo junto con el de Staglieno en Génova y el Père Lachaise de París

Basta ya. Each cemetery has something special in its own right. Regular readers of this blog know that Recoleta Cemetery is unique due to its compact nature, its location near the city center, its high concentration of art & architecture & the opportunity to discover almost all of Argentina’s history. The list could go on & on. Recoleta Cemetery needs no comparison… only interest in unlocking its secrets, as with any cemetery around the world. Below are a few of our other favorites:

Milano · Cimitero Monumentale – Not only is the entrance monumental, but fascinating sculpture continues to the very back sections of this grand cemetery. Something breathtaking lies around every corner:

Italia, Italy, Cimitero Monumentale

San Sebastián · Cementerio de Polloe – Terraced landscaping takes visitors up & down on the hunt for tombstones written in the Basque language… in spite of being prohibited during the Franco era:

España, Spain, cemetery, cementerio, Polloe, San Sebastián, Donostia

Sydney · Waverley Cemetery – Sure, Rookwood is fantastic; we can all agree with that. But the cliffside location of this cemetery overlooking the water makes for beautiful views throughout:

Australia, Sydney, Waverley, cemetery

Washington, DC · Arlington National Cemetery – simple tombstones placed row upon row of those who gave their life for their country, the tomb of the unknown soldier & monuments to both victories & tragedies:

USA, Washington, DC, Arlington National Cemetery

Madrid · Panteón de Hombres Ilustres – Art Nouveau memorials to national greats:

España, Spain, Panteón, Hombres Ilustres, Art Nouveau

Bucurešti · Bellu Cemetery – Packed tight & full of nature, the rustic layout invites exploration:

Romania, Bucurešti, Bucharest, Bellu Cemetery

Various locations with a single sculpture or a dominant style · Some cemeteries have a monumental piece (or two) that draw pilgrims to see them in person. Others possess a predominant architectural style, & often the stories associated with tombs also attract many visitors:

España, Spain, Catalunya, Barcelona, Poblenou, Kiss of Death
Barcelona · Cementiri del Poblenou – Forget Gaudí! Full of Art Nouveau tombs & sculptures, most striking is the 1930 piece titled “The Kiss of Death.”
España, Spain, Comillas, cemetery
Comillas · A small cemetery perched high on a cliff has a treasure trove of Art Nouveau.
Portugal, Alcobaça, mosteiro, Pedro, Inês, túmulos, tombs
Portugal · Mosteiro de Alcobaça – The tombs of star-crossed lovers Pedro & Inês are marvels of medieval sculpture, & their story has inspired artists for centuries. More info on our sister website, Endless Mile.

We hope this brief list of cemeteries other than La Recoleta provides inspiration for future travel. Tombs & mausoleums reflect their time as well as let us know how their occupants wanted to be remembered. Do you have a favorite not listed here? We’ll share more of our travels on request, & we’re always looking for new places to explore. Let us know your best cemetery experience. With a bit of luck, cemetery visits may become part of mainstream tourism soon!

Leave a Comment

557. reflection

James Murphy, 1795, Évora, Portugal, Capela dos Ossos, bone chapel

There’s nothing quite like a pandemic to reflect on the nature of life & death. The past few weeks have been difficult for the primary author of this blog who lives in Spain. Four weeks of official quarantine have passed, but another two await… with likely more to come if the number of deaths remain high. The death toll due to coronavirus in Spain reached over 900 people daily for awhile, but recently numbers have dropped a bit. Argentina –far from the global epicenter of the pandemic– has only had 83 deaths total to date… a far cry from the almost 17,000 deaths here in Spain. The graphic below is from the 12 Apr 2020 edition of the Spanish newspaper El País (click to expand):

El País, Spain, death toll, coronavirus

However, Buenos Aires is no stranger to epidemics. Several swept through the city over a century ago with the most devastating being a yellow fever outbreak in 1871. An estimated 10% of the population died within a few months. Doctors & scientists had yet to discover the vector or an effective treatment, so people fled Buenos Aires… like the plague. Recoleta Cemetery even prohibited the burial of yellow fever victims. Deserted & left to its own devices, scenes of empty streets from current quarantine measures surely resemble what the city experienced almost 150 years ago. What artwork will come to define our modern experience like the famous painting of a victim of yellow fever by Juan Manuel Blanes?

Juan Manuel Blanes, fiebre amarilla

One thought holds some comfort in these difficult times; major outbreaks of disease aren’t the only opportunity to reflect on death. In previous centuries, certain religious orders throughout Europe built a chapel specifically for that reason. Several can be still be visited, but my personal favorite is in a Franciscan church in Évora, Portugal. A somewhat chilling –but true– statement greets the visitor even today: Nos ossos que aqui estamos pelos vossos esperamos. Our bones that are here await for yours.

Évora, Portugal, Capela dos Ossos, bone chapel
Évora, Portugal, Capela dos Ossos, bone chapel

Shocking for some, walls covered with skulls & other assorted bones have a simple purpose: to familiarize the visitor with the fate that awaits us all. This particular chapel has been on the tourist circuit for some time, & a wonderful account was written by British architect James Murphy after a visit in 1789-90. A monk explained to him:

“It was for this purpose that sepulchres and cemeteries were made adjoining to the churches, and in the most frequented parts of the city, with a view to divest the people of the idea of terror at the sight of a corpse, and to the end that the continual sight of bones, graves, monuments, and funeral obsequies, should put them in mind of their frail condition.”

James Murphy, 1795, Évora, Portugal, Capela dos Ossos, bone chapel

Death is indeed less terrifying when it becomes part of our lives, & no better time to consider our own place in the world than now. This blog will continue to provide a space for that kind of reflection, pandemic or no. That said, no need to rush to join those other bones… stay healthy, but make cemetery tourism a part of your future travel plans wherever you may go.

Leave a Comment

538. bombs & anarchists

On 14 Nov 2018 around 17:15 —less than an hour before closing time— a bomb went off inside Recoleta Cemetery. Marcelo immediately sent me a message via WhatsApp & within seconds I watched the story unfold on TN’s live YouTube broadcast from my living room in Spain:

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, TN Vivo

The explosion occurred in the far left corner of the cemetery at the tomb of Ramón Falcón, & initial reports mentioned one of five home-made pipe bombs exploding… severely injuring one woman who was being attended by an EMT crew onsite. Forensic police arrived to investigate the scene as well as assess any potential threat from unexploded devices. Later that day, the following photos were released via the national news agency, Télam:

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, bombing, Ramón Falcón, Télam

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, bombing, Ramón Falcón, Télam

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, bombing, Ramón Falcón, Télam

The story wasn’t difficult to put together. The injured woman, 34-year old Anahí Esperanza Salcedo, had been responsible for the bombing & suffered facial damage as well as the loss of three fingers when the device exploded early… apparently while taking a selfie.

Salcedo entered the cemetery with Hugo Alberto Rodríguez, both disguised with wigs & sunglasses. They identify as anarchists & wanted to destroy the tomb of Falcón, who had been assassinated by an anarchist 109 years ago. In the end, the tomb survived while Salcedo remains in critical condition.

Police officials consider this crime linked to another pipe bomb thrown into the front patio of the home of judge Claudio Bonadio later that same day. Bonadio is currently investigating charges of bribery & money laundering involving members of the previous government, including former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. The following day federal police raided the anarchists’ base of operations in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of San Cristóbal & arrested 10 individuals after finding material used to make pipe bombs.

Marcelo went to Recoleta Cemetery to assess the situation two days after the bombing occurred. The first change he noticed is that bags are now being inspected at the entrance gate. While we aren’t sure if this checkpoint will become permanent, be prepared to have your belongings searched until further notice. Marcelo also confirmed the correct time of the bombing, misreported in local media as around 18:00… impossible since the cemetery promptly closes at that time every day. Forensic police were still working the scene during his visit:

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, entrance gate, Marcelo Metayer

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, Marcelo Metayer

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, Marcelo Metayer

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, Marcelo Metayer

Marcelo also heard people ask in several different languages where the explosion had taken place. Word had quickly spread about the incident. He’ll return next week for an update, so stay tuned! In the meantime, tombs that are located inside the orange dashed line on the map below cannot be visited. This corresponds to locations numbered 41 to 44 in the PDF guide:

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, affected section from bombing

During 19 years of visiting & documenting Recoleta Cemetery, neither Marcelo nor I ever imagined this kind of violence taking place inside. Some speculate that it may be an attempt to disrupt an otherwise calm city preceding the G-20 summit. Whatever the reason, one lesson that Recoleta Cemetery demonstrates through almost 200 years of history is that violence is never the means to an end. And you can’t kill someone twice!

Update (22 Nov 2018): Apparently all cemeteries in Buenos Aires—Recoleta, Chacarita & Flores—will not allow visitors to enter with bags or backpacks, & handbags will be inspected by security. Photo courtesy of Susana Gesualdi:

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, Susana Gesualdi, notice

Leave a Comment

525. statue down

From the Argentine national news agency TélamBuenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, Pedro de Anchorena, acidente

A 30-year old tourist was injured today when he fell along with a statue that he had climbed on in order to take photos in Recoleta Cemetery. Information comes from SAME (Sistema de Atención Médica de Emergencias, the EMTs for Buenos Aires), the Ministry of Environment & Public Space, & from Rivadavia Hospital.

Some witnesses who saw the fall said that it happened around 14:00, &, after identifying the young man as a tourist from the Spanish city of Málaga, they explained that the accident took place when he climbed on one of the two marble sculptures that “guard” the entrance to the Pedro de Anchorena vault.

“The sculpture separated from its base & fell, taking the young man with it”, informed a city government official who assured that there are signs on-site in the cemetery which state “it is forbidden to climb structures”.

According to city government sources, the tourist “is out of danger” after being immediately treated by SAME, who sent the patient to Rivadavia Hospital for evaluation.

“The young man showed early signs of trauma to the thorax & was later evaluated by the emergency room in Rivadavia Hospital”, said the spokesperson for SAME, Alberto Crescenti, just after the accident.

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, Pedro de Anchorena, acidente

The sculpture that fell “could not have done so by itself. That would have been impossible for a statue like that. Someone must have climbed on it”, said Raúl Rivas, who organizes guided visits & is familiar with the cemetery’s architecture.

According to the guide, “the aged, white marble sculpture, no more than 1.5 meters tall, is one of two female figures in sorrow with a small bouquet of flowers in their hands that ‘guarded’ the entrance of the Pedro de Anchorena vault, a member of the well-known & powerful landowning Argentine family”.

The sculptures that frame the entrance of the Anchorena vault, according to Rivas, have a base that is proportional to the rest of piece, so it “is impossible that it would fall without an external force”.

The Pedro de Anchorena vault is located in the Sector 1 of the cemetery, to the left-hand side after the entrance gate & leading to monuments dedicated to Facundo Quiroga & Sarmiento.


Marcelo & I struggled to come up with an accurate-but-nonjudgmental title for this post. In the end, this is just one more cultural loss due to stupidity. The accident reminds me of a similar incident in Lisboa last year at the Rossio train station. This should go without saying, but just in case: Please respect Recoleta Cemetery while visiting so its artistic legacy can endure.

Photo credits to news agencies Télam & DyN.


524. famous visitors

Buenos Aires attracts millions of tourists every year & among those are quite a few celebrities. Whether in BA for promotion, performance or just to relax, many see the city’s top attractions. However, only few have left a public record of their visit to Recoleta Cemetery.

One of the oldest celebrity photos we’ve found online is from Liza Minnelli‘s visit in 1993. Below, she leaves flowers for Eva Perón:

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Liza Minnelli

During a Rolling Stones concert tour, Mick Jagger strolled through the cemetery apparently unnoticed in February 2016… except for staff taking photos for his Twitter account:

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Mick Jagger
Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Mick Jagger

Ashton Kutcher traveled to Buenos Aires in March 2016 to promote his latest series The Ranch. He really made the rounds, as Armando Besada posted in Instagram:

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Ashton Kutcher

A few months later in May 2016, Dolph Lundgren came to Buenos Aires for “its art, the beef & the women, of course!” Ugh. At least that’s the version the newspaper La Nación wanted to tell. Lundgren filmed a few segments for the Space Awards in La Boca & while in the cemetery, he took a selfie at the tomb of Eva Perón & posted it on Instagram :

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery, Dolph Lundgren

Queen Margrethe II of Denmark visited Buenos Aires in 2019, but that trip wasn’t her first time in Argentina. She’d visited in 1966 at the age of 25, but this time photographers recorded her visit to Recoleta Cemetery (image courtesy of La Nación):

Recoleta Cemetery, Clarín, Buenos Aires, Margrethe II, Queen, Denmark

English pop star Dua Lipa chatted with fans & had a private tour of the cemetery in September 2022. We don’t know who this guide is, so I wonder what she (& her massive security force) thought of the visit:

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Día Lipa
Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Día Lipa

A surprising omission: Madonna first visited Argentina in 1993 during the Girlie Show World Tour, then returned three years later to film Alan Parker’s version of the musical Evita. Amazingly, no photo ever surfaced of her visiting Eva Perón’s mausoleum. Did she go undercover? After hours? Would that have even been possible? Madonna brought the Sticky & Sweet Tour to Buenos Aires in 2008 & finished the MDNA Tour in 2012 in Argentina. Although she didn’t miss a photo-op with former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner & another visit to the Casa Rosada, there has never been a public photo released of Madonna in Recoleta Cemetery.

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Madonna, CFK

Did we miss a celebrity? Send a photo along with details, & we’ll add them to this list.

Leave a Comment