There are so many highlights to see in Buenos Aires it was no wonder we had to spend two weeks here, and yet it didn’t seem enough time. Each day was filled with new sights but one that I had been looking forward to was Recoleta cemetery, where Evitas grave is located.
We wanted to learn more about Evita’s history so we visited her museum in the morning. Not many visitors get time to do this but I had been fascinated in her life after watching the stage musical as a teenager. The museum was set up in a beautiful mansion in the Palermo district by Eva Peron’s grand niece in 2000. However, it was initially restored by the Evita foundation in 1948 as a women’s shelter.
The museum was fascinating and filled with a chronological history on Evita including the political history of Argentina when she was with Juan Peron. For a woman who only lived to 33 years her legacy in Argentina is still evident and she is almost considered a saint here.
An interesting fact we weren’t aware of, was that after Evita’s death a memorial was to be constructed in her honour. Her body was embalmed and stored until completion. Two years later Peron was overthrown by a military coup and Eva Peron’s body was removed from public display. However, for 16 years her body went missing and it was later revealed by the military in 1971 that she was buried in a crypt in Italy under a false name. Finally in the early 70’s her body was returned to Argentina and later buried under tonnes of cement in a modest vault with her family the Durantes at Recoleta cemetery.
Recoleta cemetery is an opulent labyrinth of crypts and elegant mausoleums designed by Paris architects for the rich, powerful, wealthy and elite of Buenos Aires. Former presidents, generals, writers, artists and socialites commissioned grandiose tombs to house themselves in the afterlife. It holds more than 6000 tombs and as we walked into the main corridor lined with cypress trees and extravagant sculptures we realised we would be here all afternoon.
Unfortunately there were no English speaking tours on the day we visited but nevertheless we located Evita’s grave on the map at the entrance and headed there first. Huge crowds are drawn here every day and it was no surprise to see a queue in the narrow alleyway where she lies. Instead we were captivated by the rest of the cemetery and meandered further away from to the narrow back alleys of polished granite, marble and stone in this ostentatious city of the dead.
The afternoon sun cast extraordinary light over the sculptured ornate tombs and crypts and these became perfect subjects for taking photos. If we had more time we would have definitely returned another day for an English tour for insight on the cemetery residents and the quirky and ghostly tales.
We have been to a couple of smaller cemeteries in Chile where the crypt is made of glass and the coffins are visible. Ben found this concept fascinating and he would seek these out. Often there is a glass door and an altar to sit inside. At one stage I had been totally absorbed in taking photos and lowered my camera to find Ben gone. I knew the cemetery was designed in a grid and would eventually run into him, but in the meantime stumbled upon a couple of neglected crumbling vaults with exposed coffins.
We eventually found our way back to Evita’s vault where there was a small queue for about 10 minutes and paid homage to the former first Lady. As we made our way back to the main corridor we noticed a few stray cats here and had read that there are about 80 of them living in the cemetery. They are part of the surrounds now and are apparently well fed each day.
So today was our Evita day. What is ironic to note is that throughout her life Evita fought against the elite and wealthy to seek justice and rights for the poor and now in her death she lies amongst them.