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Month: August 2009

337. staircase destruction

As reported by every other blog concerned with saving the architectural heritage of Buenos Aires, the entrance gate staircase for Recoleta Cemetery is currently being demolished. Just like that. No one could have foreseen that repavement of the sidewalk adjacent to the cemetery could have generated such a blatant disregard for the city’s  biggest tourist attraction.

The need for some sort of change of the staircase comes from poor planning. By using thicker, pre-fabricated sidewalk tiles, the new sidewalk level is higher than the original & exceeds the base of the staircase:

Entrance gate destruction, Recoleta Cemeter

As reported by Sergio Kiernan in a mocking article appearing in Página/12’s architecture supplement m2, workers began breaking up the Carrara marble staircase with hammers before Teresa de Anchorena (member of both city & national heritage organizations) found out about the destruction on May 20th. She contacted Jorge Sábato—city Subsecretary for Urban Projects, Architecture & Infrastructure—reminding him of the mistake being made. According to Kiernan, Sábato did not respond to Anchorena’s communiqué. It was too late… several local residents had already taken pieces of staircase marble home with them as souvenirs.

Sábato’s next-in-command Miguel Ortemberg sent a letter six days later to the National Commission of Museums, Monuments & Historical Places requesting advice on how to modify the cemetery’s staircase after the damage had already been done:

Ortemberg letter

Days passed while Sábato & Ortemberg submitted a variety of documents to the city legislature claiming that there would be drainage problems given the new sidewalk level. Only one solution existed & the marble staircase would be removed & stored for any future solution or modification. All lies. Another problem they cited was the lack of a permanent disability ramp for cemetery access. Adding insult to injury, both Sábato & Ortemberg are degree-holding architects. Their solution was destruction over preservation.

Entrance gate, Recoleta Cemetery

With officials like Sábato & Ortemberg in charge, there is little question why so much destruction of the city’s architectural heritage  has happened in recent years. In spite of being listed as a National Historic Monument in 2007, the cemetery entrance gate has lost an irreplaceable part of its foundation & only serves to demonstrate the ineffectiveness of local & national government. At the very least, Sábato & Ortemberg should be removed from their posts & fined for the cost of replacing the staircase… an exorbitant amount given that 5 cm thick pieces of Carrara marble are rarely found these days.


Update (25 Jan 2010): Six months of inaction & the cemetery entrance remains a construction site. After completion of the ramp, the makeshift barricades pictured above remained in place for several months. Only recently has an attempt been made to hide from plain sight the destruction of the staircase. A scaled photograph of the column bases currently wraps around half the entrance gate until city authorities decide what to do:

Entrance gate, Recoleta Cemetery

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335. diario extra, 21 jul 2009

Interview with Diego Zigiotto

Guidebook for the city of the dead by Marcelo Metayer

The author of “1001 Curiosities of Recoleta Cemetery” assures that “there are a lot of people inside that no one knows about” & that he has more than enough material for a sequel.

Diego Zigiotto, a Buenos Aires journalist with a degree in tourism, is also a specialized guide in the city. In 2007 he published “1001 Curiosities of Buenos Aires” & his experience with the most famous burial site in Argentina led him to write his most recent work, “1001 Curiosities of Recoleta Cemetery.”

You’re a newspaper journalist & a tour guide. How do the two professions fit together?

By chance. I was already a reporter, I worked six years in radio, later I quit & began working in tourism. When I started to study tourism (*note: Argentina, like most countries in Europe, has a degree program for tourism), a professor told me: “Since you’re a reporter, you should be a tour guide.” It wasn’t a bad idea, so I began studying to be a guide. I created new routes, one of them being “Curiosities of Buenos Aires.” People told me, “Why don’t you give us something written? It’s a lot of info.” So I began writing. When I had a little over 200 pages, I presented it to a publisher (Cuatro Vientos), put up some cash, family & friends chipped in, & “1001 Curiosities of Buenos Aires” came out. Later the publishing house Norma called where it was re-edited & both careers came together.

How did you start with the book about the cemetery?

I’d always liked this cemetery & for the past two years I’ve worked as a voluntary guide. There were already two books about the cemetery, that of (Oscar) López Mato with good photos & information but with errors, & that of María Rosa Lojo that has some 10 or 12 historical short stories which can’t be used as factual. So I said, I’m going to do something different. There are a lot of people here that no one knows about, but the publisher told me “lighten up a bit because the book will be like a dictionary.”

Pagina 12, Marcelo

But there are still a lot of names, over 200…

A bit over 300. And several weren’t included. There were 450 & we cut it down to 315. We removed many because they said we couldn’t justify including them all.

You propose that people send you information to do an update or even a sequel to this book.

Yes. In fact, we began to take out information & they said, “it’s good for a second book.” Later I thought, who would buy it? I still gather info anyway. Lots of specifics were taken away from different entries… how do you put in two pages everything that these people did?

What’s very interesting about the book is that besides historical summaries, there are many anecdotes.

I found them by immersing myself in libraries. I would have liked to have had more time for that… for full-time research & further investigation.

What kind of response have you had?

Those who have written me liked the book. A 16-year old kid told me, “I read your book by mistake. I bought it thinking it was urban myths/stories, but I loved it.” A descendant of the García Mansilla family who has a blog with a lot of their personal history wrote a post praising the book.

How many people worked with you?

Three people. A friend who works in a library searched for biographies for me, & two women from the cemetery researched information in burial records when I couldn’t come myself.

Of the stories which were removed, which do you regret not including?

We argued a lot about those of Zully Moreno & Luis César Amadori. When people take a guided tour & you tell them Zully Moreno is here, they’re interested because they know her & they’ve seen her onscreen. Another that was deleted is the Club Hotel of Sierra de la Ventana.

What is your next project?

I’m not writing anything now. One project was to do “1001 Curiosities of Argentina,” but it seems a bit ambitious.

And the other cemeteries of Buenos Aires?

Another project was Chacarita, but it wouldn’t sell as well & it doesn’t have as much glamour. Still, there are tons of people (Gardel, Bonavena, the Actors & SADAIC pantheons) to fill two books.


Original article in Spanish not available online. The lead photograph was taken by Marcelo Metayer.

Zigiotto mentioned to Marcelo during the interview that he came across this blog several times while looking for information about Recoleta Cemetery, & he was surprised information about the cemetery was available in English. I checked his bibliography for a mention of AfterLife—it’s currently for sale at the cemetery gate for 58 pesos—but no credit is given. That’s too bad.