I left the last, my favorite, piece of Buenos Aires for last. The most attentive of you have noticed that missing from my sight’s list from the last post is La Recoleta, the famous cemetery of the Argentinian capital. I am not a big fan of cemeteries, to put it mildly. I was always accelerating to pass the one close to my house in St Petersburg, changed route to avoid the green spaces of Munich cemeteries and even in Paris, made it to the famous Père Lachaise only when my history-obsessed friend Ele came to visit (which was a great experience: our quest for the tomb is Sextoy was epic). I could never get how people find peace walking in the cemeteries, or jogging there, or doing yoga (seen in Munich), or walking their dogs. For me, so many things are wrong about it.
Yet there is something about La Recoleta that makes you feel very fine with the concept. It does not feel like a cemetery, in fact. Located in a middle of a well off Recoleta neighborhood, it looks more like an endless gallery of the most fine European art, exposed along symmetrically perfect alleys under the gorgeous blue summer sky. And given that most of the monuments and tomb construction materials were brought here from Paris and Milan in the 1880 -1930s, it is no wonder that the place is comforting: everything familiar is. But most of all, it really does not look like a cemetery. Well, not exactly, not how you would picture one.
See it for yourself.
So what’s the story of this place?
La Recoleta Cemetery (Cementerio de la Recoleta) is the 6th most beautiful world’s cemetery according to Bloomberg (Père Lachaise is still number three, hehe). All gorgeous, filled with masterpieces ranging from Baroque to Art Deco to Art Nouveau to Neo-Gothic, and carefully tucked in the middle of the city, of course, La Recoleta has never been meant as a place where simple people rest. Designed by French engineer Próspero Catelin for rich and famous, it mimics the architecture of their Earth homes (in fact, the nowadays houses around La Recoleta fade in comparison to the cemetery).
Once an orchard of the monks’ convent, the cemetery now contains 4691 vaults, of which 94 have been declared National Historical Monuments and are protected by the state. Many famous people are buried here: think Eva Perón (the famous First Lady of Argentina best known as Evita), Argentinian presidents, Nobel Prize winner Luis F. Leloir, the founder of the Argentine Navy, and even grand daughter of Napoleon Isabel Walewski Colonna. The grand daughter’s story is quiet sad (you are not expecting any fun at the cemetery, are you): she was only 6 days old when she died – but already baptized. She was then buried in the family tomb of her godmother, María Sánchez de Mendevielle.
The most famous tomb story though (ok, it does start to feel like a cemetery) is not about someone famous. Rufina Cambacérès died in 1902, when she was nineteen years old. Or, to be more precise, she was pronounced dead by three doctors, all of which turned out to be wrong. Rufina woke up in her tomb, buried, and tried to set herself free. The cemetery servant found her coffin moved the day after the service, opened it and discovered Rufina dead (for real now), her forehead and hands all in bruises from the attempts to break free.
Or maybe it is all an urban legend. The cat would probably know, but would the cat tell?.