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  • Writer's pictureTim and Lindsey

Dramas in Recoleta Cemetery - Day 439

There is something magical walking around a cemetery; it's fascinating looking at gravestones, wondering about the people and the life they led. And there are certainly a few dramas in Recoleta Cemetery where we visited today.

One of the world’s best cemeteries, La Recoleta Cemetery, is just a short walk from where we are staying. so a visit is a must. We strolled around the high brick wall that surrounds the 14 acres, with gothic statues peeking over the top and cypress trees towering above, reaching the neo-classical grand gates. A map on our left listed the families buried here; many noble people including famous poets, artists, physicians, military, Nobel Prize winners, many of Argentina’s Presidents and, yes, Evita Perón.

We discovered that Franciscan monks lived here, turning the fields into their convent and church, Our Lady of Pilar in 1732. The garden of their disbanded convent was converted into the first public cemetery in 1822 by the Governor who was eventually buried there. The governor sold plots to the local gentry and these days, a small plot can be sold for as much as US$25k!

As we walked in, I was astounded by the number of mausoleums, all packed in tight next to one another in neat rows like city blocks, with straight pathways in between. I have since read that there are 4,691 vaults of which some can have 25 coffins below. The largest, the “Noble” family have 50 coffins. Some of the vaults are 5m deep and even are under the path. Crikey, I hope it doesn’t cave in!

We slowly walked along, noticing the variety of architectural styles, I love the Art Noveau designs with the graceful organic flowing lines with curls, circles and thistles. There were some with huge domes, marble statues, grand pillars; it did seem a bit of trying to outdo the neighbour; not surprisingly 94 have been declared National Historical Monuments.

Some of the mausoleums had windows, some stained glass, where we could see the metal lined coffins and urns on shelves, or stairs leading down into the vault below. Others had drawers to slide the coffins into. Eventually, we got to number 88 for Duarte de Perón, María Eva, and joined a small crowd of people gawping here.

The story goes that when Evita died, there was a military coup, ousting Perón. As the military didn’t want her to be a martyr, her body was held at a General’s house then taken to Milan and was buried under the name "Maggi". Later Juan Perón remarried and lived in Spain. Many years later, he was invited back by the military and became president again for the third time in October 1973. Sadly he died just 9 months later. His wife Isabella then arranged for Evita’s body to come back to Buenos Aires. The well-travelled coffin lay next to Perón in the presidential palace, and then, 26 years after her death, she was finally put to rest in the Duarte family tomb. It is now sealed and protected right at the bottom of the mausoleum.

My favourite mausoleum on a corner of the main square has a beautiful statue of a young lady and stunning Art Noveau design in marble. The name over the door says Rufina Cambaceres and her death was tragic.

It was her 19th birthday, and she was getting ready to go to a show. One of her close friends revealed that Rufina’s fiancé was having an affair with her own mother. She was distraught and later collapsed. One of the maids discovered her, and three doctors all pronounced her dead.

Her mother was mortified and lay her to rest in a beautiful coffin. After several days, just before the burial, the coffin was opened for the last time, and scratch marks were found on the lid. Rufina had been trapped in the coffin alive. She hadn’t died, she had suffered from catalepsy. Panicking trying to escape, she then died of a heart attack.

Not a happy ending, but it does verify that I want my body to go to medical research. There is no way that I want to end up in a coffin, like poor Rufina.

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