The Macabre Beauty of the Famous La Recoleta Cemetery

La Recoleta cemetery in Buenos Aires: somehow many of these graves are beautiful, certainly no expenses have been spared.

La Recoleta cemetery in Buenos Aires: somehow many of these graves are beautiful, certainly no expenses have been spared.

La Recoleta cemetery in Buenos Aires: this aisle shows some of the various styles of graveyard monuments.

La Recoleta cemetery in Buenos Aires: this aisle shows some of the various styles of graveyard monuments.

La Recoleta cemetery in Buenos Aires: many of the mausoleums are topped with glass cupolas and angels.

La Recoleta cemetery in Buenos Aires: many of the mausoleums are topped with glass cupolas and angels.

It’s not that common for a cemetery to become a tourist attraction – and even less so that one makes it onto the ‘Must-See-List’ of almost every visitor to a particular destination. That’s just one thing that makes La Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires stand out.

Of course, the design and opulence of La Recoleta’s mausoleums are the real stand-out attractions. I have been to a number of famous graveyards but I don’t believe I have ever seen as much shiny black granite or as many elaborate white marble statues per square metre in any other place.

Many of the richest or most famous residents of Argentina are buried here. Most of the mausoleums must have cost much more than a peasant’s family home. The quality and detail of the craftsmanship is astonishing. Can you imagine: countless outstanding marble statues were commissioned and produced in Europe and shipped to their final resting place in Buenos Aires.

La Recoleta cemetery in Buenos Aires: some mausoleums exhibit the most extravagant marble statues on their outside

La Recoleta cemetery in Buenos Aires: some mausoleums exhibit the most extravagant marble statues on their outside

La Recoleta cemetery in Buenos Aires: many of the mausoleums are topped with glass cupolas and angels.

La Recoleta cemetery in Buenos Aires: many of the mausoleums are topped with glass cupolas and angels.

Its 5.5 hectare size, and the number of impressive vaults, makes La Recoleta Cemetery a place you could easily spend a full day and still leave with the feeling that you haven’t seen it all. Figures vary, depending on the source, but there seem to be around 5000 vaults. 94 mausoleums are of such importance that they have been declared National Historical Monuments by the Argentine government.

Strategically placed benches and shade trees help to make the visit relaxing – until you try to visit the world famous grave of Eva Perón. To get to it, along a fairly narrow passageway, you might have to battle some crowds. This in turn makes it rather easy to find her tomb: from the main entrance you keep to the left and simply look for the busiest aisle. Once you reach the front of the queue, the plain appearance of her burial site is almost an anti-climax.

La Recoleta cemetery in Buenos Aires: we didn't find it in 2009, but this time we came past the grave of Eva Peron. Just look for the most crowded aisle with a security camera at the end of it.

La Recoleta cemetery in Buenos Aires: we didn’t find it in 2009, but this time we came past the grave of Eva Peron. Just look for the most crowded aisle with a security camera at the end of it.

Even if you want to photograph only a fraction of the graves you had better make sure that you have a full battery and an empty storage card in your camera… The almost monochromatic appearance of the entire compound, dominated by black granite and white marble, inspired me to transform my photos into black-and-white pictures.

We also visited La Recoleta in 2009 , during our last stay in the city. After our recent visit I compared photos: apart from a few sites next to the main entry path, we saw a completely different section. This time we spent two hours there, which shows just how big the cemetery is!

Some of the graves are fitted with colourful stained-glass windows – which in a few cases inspired me to play with photo editing: I cut out the coloured part and turned the rest b&w.

There are many, many amazingly beautiful Art-Nouveau doors at La Recoleta. People who know me will know that I’m always keen to photograph unusual doors.

At many of the tombs, particularly the ones which look more plain on the outside, you have to peek through the glass to discover their rich splendour inside.

I hope my post inspires you to include La Recoleta Cemetery on your ‘Must-See-List’ for a visit to Buenos Aires. Or have you been already? In either case I dare to bet that you find (or found) many motifs, different from mine, worth a photograph.

La Recoleta cemetery in Buenos Aires: a rusty steel door decorated with a plain skull

La Recoleta cemetery in Buenos Aires: a rusty steel door decorated with a plain skull

Further reading: Wikipedia has a list of prominent people buried at La Recoleta

Juergen

webmaster, main photographer & driver, second cook and only husband at dare2go.com. Freelance web designer with nearly 20 years of experience at webbeetle.com.au

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13 Responses

  1. Vlad says:

    Wow, it looks quite impressive! I’ve never visited a cemetery before, but I really want to go to Buenos Aires so I’ll make sure this one will be on my itinerary :) Thanks for linking up with #TheWeeklyPostcard

  2. Shobha says:

    I think the old cemeteries are just beautiful. So much work and effort went into them. There is a beautiful historic one in London near us that regularly runs tours.

    • Juergen says:

      I think it’s actually worthwhile to visit some old cemeteries with a guide! We went to one in Berlin (near the Mauermuseum) where a lot of historically important people are buried – without a guide one would likely miss their graves. You can visit La Recoleta with a tour guide as well but there’s, at this stage, no certification for guides so you don’t know what quality tour you will be getting.

  3. Corinne says:

    I find cemeteries pretty fascinating. Many times I can’t understand even one word, but the way they are arranged, decorated, maintained is always different wherever you go. Love this!

    • Juergen says:

      Yes, somehow we find ourselves often drawn to cemeteries along our travels. Occasionally though for a completely different reason: travelling, as we do, in a camper, they often offer quiet out-of-the-way parking spaces to stay over night. But other times we really enjoy the calm atmosphere and unique burial procedures.

  4. You are right! This cemetery is unique and impressive. I do not think I will find another place like this in the world. When I visited, I was kind of surprise to find people buried above ground (well, most of them). I was also surprised to see how some of these mausoleums resemble a “room'” or small residence. Family members of the deceased have keys to enter the area. Some have chairs, sofas and tables (so you can sit while paying your respects or having a religious service).

    • Juergen says:

      Ruth, you’re right! I should have mentioned that many of the mausoleums have a seating area inside… I imagined that this was for different reasons:

      • to be able to pay respect in a more private setting
      • to get out of the weather
      • to make the visit more comfortable for elderly relatives
    • María says:

      That’s how every cemetery is in Argentina. I’m glad you liked it! :)

  5. Rhonda Albom says:

    Beautiful – I would never expect this level of decadence for a cemetery.

    • Juergen says:

      LOL – ‘Decadence’ is maybe the right word! I didn’t want to use it in a post in case I would offend – so chose ‘opulence’ instead.

  6. Anda says:

    As strange as it may sound, I loved this cemetery. It is one of the most interesting places in Buenos Aires.

    • Juergen says:

      That doesn’t sound strange at all! We’ve been twice and I would go back any time – I still haven’t seen all of it and would also like to learn more of its strange stories.

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