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Month: December 2009

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.


363. familias de macías y soria

Macías y Soria, Recoleta Cemetery

Although we’re still investigating why he was originally buried here, this was once the final resting place of Paul Groussac. Born into a modest family in Toulouse in 1848, Groussac denied a spot the French Naval Academy in order to travel the world. But his funds were running out in Bourdeaux, so he took a boat to a faraway destination: Buenos Aires. Arriving in Argentina in 1866 at the age of 18 with no Spanish, Groussac took odd jobs & studied mathematics… but it was his historical essays which got him noticed. Nicolás Avellaneda offered Groussac a professorial position at the Colegio Nacional in Tucumán where he remained for 12 years.

According to biographer Paula Bruno, Groussac returned to France in 1883 hoping to make a name for himself in Parisian literary circles. No one paid much attention so he quickly returned to Argentina to find fame there instead. In 1885, he was appointed Director of the National Library & occupied that post until his death in 1929. Groussac, in the space of 40+ years, converted the National Library into a leading cultural institution & achieved the reknown he longed for.

Paul Groussac, Recoleta Cemetery

At a time when Argentina wanted to become as European as possible, Groussac’s French origins worked to his advantage. Bruno claims that Groussac thought his word on anything cultural was definitive just because he was French. Whether he was that arrogant or not, Groussac established two trade magazines, organized the library’s collection, wrote several historical biographies, stimulated cultural activity & strove to add value to intellectual life in Argentina. Jorge Luis Borges even wrote his obituary. One of the plaques displays an accurate relief of Groussac in later life along with names of some of his widely read publications:

Paul Groussac, Recoleta Cemetery

Moved after the completion of his own family vault, Paul Groussac can now be found on a prominent diagonal in Chacarita Cemetery:

Paul Groussac, Chacarita Cemetery

Update (06 Oct 2012): Thanks to a descendant, we have a plausible reason why Groussac was buried in this tomb. One of his daughters, María, married Esteban Macías sometime at the beginning of the 19th century.. They had seven children, one of which was the grandfather of Silvestre Macías… who found this post & left a comment. Thanks very much!


362. the amazing race

Amazing Race logo

Premiering in 2001, “The Amazing Race” pits 11 teams of two people on an around the world trip to see who can complete challenges & finish the course first for one million dollars. Currently on its 15th season, naturally they’ve filmed in Buenos Aires a few times. Season 5, Episode 2 —airing in 2004— had teams travel by ferry from Uruguay to Buenos Aires & make their way to the tomb of Eva Perón. Of course. The teams make it, sooner or later, to their next clue inside Recoleta Cemetery:

This video unfortunately was blocked on YouTube due to copyright claims… perhaps in the future we will be able to post it again.

A few comments: Obviously the cemetery was closed during filming as there are no other tourists around. Driving the teams to the tomb in a vehicle normally used to transport caskets is a bit creepy & useless… Recoleta Cemetery is only four blocks big. Asking caretakers where her tomb is located would have been more realistic, & it’s only a 2-minute walk or 30-second run from the entrance. Better yet, they could have directed teams to the crypt of Aramburu first, then on to Eva with a history lesson along the way… but maybe that’s too much to ask.

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361. poppy

Poppy, Recoleta Cemetery

Who can forget the scene in “The Wizard of Oz” where Dorothy & the Cowardly Lion are in danger of falling asleep forever in the poppy fields?

The poppy has been associated with eternal sleep since Greek times when they were used as offerings for the deceased. Perhaps the effects of opium —intense relaxation & freedom from anxiety— also make the poppy an appropriate symbol for a cemetery. Although not common in Recoleta, the image can occasionally be found in wrought-iron doors & plaques:

Poppy, Recoleta Cemetery

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