At the risk of sounding like an eyeliner-wearing emo goth girl, I’ll come right out and say it: My favourite place in Buenos Aires is a Cemetery…
But then again, La Recoleta Cemetery is unlike any other cemeteries that we’ve ever been to.
Situated in the heart of the rather posh Recoleta neighbourhood, the cemetery houses the remains of some of the most (in)famous personalities in Argentine history.
Add to that the elaborate marble mausoleums and the MANY exquisite works of famous sculptors, I personally think that La Recoleta Cemetery is a good place to while away a good afternoon (or in our case, two) for anyone stopping by Buenos Aires.
I suppose we should feel spooked, but instead we felt a weird serenity and calmness walking through the cemetery.
I’ve mentioned that in order to make La Recoleta Cemetery their final resting place, the deceased need to be part of the Who’s Who of Argentine history (and since land here is not cheap, they also need to have a LOT of money). That’s why in a such a (relatively) small space, we were able to find the crypts of Presidents and Revolutionaries, Nobel Prize Winners and Athletes, Writers and Madmen. Interestingly, this also means that bitter enemies might be placed next to one another and the assassinated might be laid to rest directly opposite the guy who ordered the hit.
With so many colorful personalities within, the best part about La Recoleta is definitely the stories. I think one of the reasons we enjoyed the place so much was because we managed to get ourselves on the free tour provided by the custodians of the cemetery.
We were guided through the history/mythologies and superstitions of the Argentine people in the 1.5 hours tour, using the tombs of her most famous citizens as a window into their lives.
(Insider tip: Free English tours of La Recoleta Cemetery are conducted at 1100am on Tuesdays and Thursdays)
Two of my “favourite” stories have to be the ones about Liliana Crociati de Szaszak and Rufina Cambaceres.
Liliana was killed in an avalanche during her honeymoon in Innsbruck, Austria. Liliana’s father commissioned a life sized bronze statue to be made of his daughter in her wedding dress (complete with wedding ring and rosary) and wrote a beautiful poem to adorn the crypt. The local legend was that her faithful dog, Sabú fell dead the exact moment she did. (Maria, our guide has since debunked that as myth. The statue of Sabú was added a few years after, when it died of natural causes).
The locals believe that rubbing Sabú’s nose brings good luck. And in a move that would make any 4D buying Singaporean’s heart swell with joy, the nose is now significantly shinier than the other parts of the statue.
Rufina Cambaceres is the cemetery’s resident Lady in White.
She collapsed on her 19th birthday and fell into a deep faint. All efforts to resuscitate her failed, and eventually three different physicians declared her dead. Since she was the daughter of famous Argentine writer Eugene Cambaceres, she was placed in the Cambaceres family crypt.
A few days after her final rites, visitors and caretakers within La Recoleta started hearing strange noises coming from the Cambaceres crypt. The family was informed and fearing that grave diggers might be trying to get at the jewelry Rufina was buried with, they decided to open up the crypt.
Inside the crypt, they noticed that the coffin had been shifted. Opening the coffin, they found fingernail lines scratched across the inside of the coffin and on Rufina’s face.
The family maintained that it was the work of robbers and vandals who harbour a grudge against the family, but the more common belief is that Rufina was buried alive. Rufina probably suffered from catalepsy. At some point after her “funeral”, she awoke to find herself trapped in the coffin. In her fear and desperation, she tried to get the attention of the people outside her crypt and/or scratch her way out of the her prison. Failing at both, she “died” a second time.
A new statue was made of her to be placed outside her tomb. Some believe that the rendering of a beautiful (and almost sad) Rufina standing in front of a door is a nod to the real cause of her death. Locals claim that she still roams the “streets” of La Recoleta Cemetery on moonless nights.
And then there are the “other” residents in the Cemetery.
La Recoleta Cemetery is home to 80++ (VERY FAT) cats. Cats are seldom seen in other parts of Buenos Aires, but for some reason, they all congregate within the cemetery. The locals believe that the cats are drawn to the spirit of the dead. A more sensible opinion is that they are attracted by the local ladies who would religiously feed them twice a day.
Next up: Recoleta’s most famous resident. Sharing Lot 88 with five of her family members, one Eva Duarte.