Buenos Aires has been called the Paris of South America for many reasons, not the least of which is its architecture. With everything from Neo-Classicism to Spanish Colonial to Art Nouveau, this city boasts a truly eclectic and enviable mixture of old and new-world style.
And one of the most interesting places to see all of this to-die-for design in one place is La Recoleta Cemetery.
A 14-acre necropolis of avenues and streets in which some of Argentina’s most influential historical and cultural figures are buried, La Recoleta may not be your typical tourist destination. But it is definitely worth putting on your Buenos Aires itinerary for several reasons: for one, it is here that you can visit the gravesite of Argentina’s Eva Perón, one of the country’s most famous women, whose grave is still a living shrine, with people leaving bouquets of flowers even today, more than 60 years after her death.
Secondly, if you’re not freaked out by the concept of cemeteries in general, many of the structures are truly luxurious, with elaborately detailed mausoleums and memorials, designed with beautiful proportions and decorated with graceful domes, mosaics and elegant sculptures; in fact, the BBC and CNN consider it one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world. (There’s one for the ‘off-the-beaten-track’ books!)
The neo-classical entrance is grand and sets the tone, with fluted Doric columns ushering you through the gates, beyond which you can stroll down tree-lined ‘avenues’ flanked by smaller streets and walkways.
Examples of Art Deco, Art Nouveau, Neo Gothic and Baroque styles are everywhere, with materials imported from Paris and Milan to construct the memorials and monuments.
Many of the tombs and gravesides date from the 19th century when the cemetery was officially established, converting the gardens of a former convent that occupied the site since 1732. But scattered amongst the older structures are recent ones, whose evocative statues hint at poignant stories about the people buried there.
Not all of the structures are well-maintained, however, and amidst all of this beautiful architecture, you are sometimes shockingly reminded that this is a cemetery, after all, and you can’t help but wonder about the lives of the affluent people buried here, some of whom lived at the time when Buenos Aires was at its height of cultural prominance more than 100 years ago.
Outside the gates of the cemetery, the Recoleta neighbourhood is still one of Buenos Aires’ wealthiest today, and definitely worth exploring. Château-styled buildings and Parisian-looking petits hôtels can be found adjacent to more modern residential buildings and designer shops, and like in its famous cemetery, sculptures and statues can be found everywhere.
The difference is that with beautiful buildings such as the Palacio Duhau and the Alvear Palace now restored into luxurious hotels boasting art galleries and wine tasting cellars for its guests to enjoy, these La Recoleta neighbourhood landmarks are designed very much for the living.
TIP:The favourable exchange rate between the Argentine Peso and the dollar makes Buenos Aires much more affordable than you would think, (certainly much cheaper than Paris!) so treat yourself to a few luxuries in this stunning South American capital city.