Why Is Recoleta Cemetery One Of The Greatest Attractions of Buenos Aires?
A cemetery? Yes!
Researched, written by Amber & The Team
Updated on May 19, 2023
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It may seem strange that a cemetery is one of the most important attractions of a city. Well, it is something that happens in several countries. This is because many cemeteries keep and preserve ancient structures with a lot of history and also because they keep many secrets, legends, and spooky stories. Most of them also have beautiful landscapes and imposing mausoleums.
In Buenos Aires, one of the most critical and recognized cemeteries is the Recoleta Cemetery, which was named (by Architectural Digest magazine) as one of the ten most beautiful and impressive cemeteries in the world. Why? That is something we will discover in this article.
The reality is that the most critical design magazine in the world is not wrong; there must be something exciting and beautiful about this cemetery since it is visited daily by thousands of tourists, international students, and those who make language tourism through a spanish school in Argentina. So, let’s see what is so special about the Recoleta Cemetery.
Discovering Recoleta Cemetery
The cemetery is located in one of the city’s most exclusive neighborhoods, and the one for which it is named the Recoleta neighborhood. This neighborhood was named after the Recoleta monks, who had a convent with an orchard, where the cemetery was later built.
It was in 1822 when the construction of the North Cemetery (as it was known in its beginnings before being renamed the Recoleta Cemetery) was ordered. This was the city’s first public cemetery, inaugurated on November 17 of that same year.
The structure, as it is now known, was completed in 1881, and it was then that the city’s wealthiest families decided to build elaborate vaults within the cemetery that had already become like an extensive pantheon. Some of them were based on the designs of the lockers that were erected in some cemeteries in Italy (like Staglieno).
In 1949 the cemetery was renamed with the name it is known today. Thanks to its architecture, it is recognized as one of the most important necropolises in the world, together with the Staglieno and Père Lachaise in Paris.
The Recoleta Cemetery was declared a National Historical Monument, and contains many other national monuments. Many of the most influential personalities of the country (since the XIX century) have been buried in this cemetery, such as María Eva Duarte de Perón, Remedios de Escalada de San Martín, Raún Alfonsín, Nicolás Avellaneda, Julio A. Roca, Hipólito Yrigoyen, Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, Bartolomé Mitre, Juan Lavalle, and many others.
Myths and Legends
One thing that attracts people when they visit cemeteries like Recoleta is the number of myths and legends about some of the vaults or tombs.
The leyend of Rufina Cambaceres
One of the best-known is that of Rufina Cambaceres, the young daughter of a very famous writer (Eugenio Cambaceres) who died on her 19th birthday in 1902. It is said that the young girl was in her room, and a maid found her dead on the floor. When her death was confirmed, she was taken to Recoleta Cemetery to be buried; however, legend has it that the next day the coffin was broken as if Rufina had tried to escape. They ruled out that it had been a robbery since her jewelry remained intact; therefore, it was believed that Rufina had not died but had entered a state of catalepsy, which concluded that Rufina had been buried alive. Of course, there is no proof that this was true, but that is what a myth or legend is about. However, all accounts of this story were flatly denied by Rufina’s family; they argue that it is a false story that was generated in Europe.
Lady in white
Another of the great urban legends of the city is the one known as “The Lady in White of Recoleta”. It tells that one night a young man met a girl dressed in white with ashen skin; she was crying, so he decided to accompany her and spend some time together. At one point she says she is cold so the boy covers her with his jacket, and then tries to kiss her. She walks away and runs to the cemetery gate, entering even though the cemetery is closed. The boy enters the graveyard, and after a long time of searching, he sees his jacket on a tombstone; when he picks it up, he discovers that the name on the tombstone is the name of the girl he had just met. The boy, very distressed, explains to the cemetery caretaker everything that has happened and asks him to open the gate so that he can come and look for her.
Famous Recoleta Cemetery statues
Sabú: A little dog in the tomb of its owner and has become famous because the tourists acquired the habit of touching its snout, which is why it has become very bright. Therefore, the statue of Sabú is that of a dog with its nose very worn out because it is trendy.
Angel children: The large monument shows a child being carried to heaven by angels while his parents look on in despair from below. This type of sculpture represents the death of small children.
Seated opposite: Salvador del Carril, a vice-president of the nation, used to argue with his wife over economic expenses and used to make it public. When he died, his wife requested that the monument on his tomb represent him seated, like an excellent bourgeois gentleman. Then she wrote that when she died, she wanted her sculpture to be placed with her back to her husband. Thus, each of the monuments faces opposite sides in disagreement.
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