The World’s Most Beautiful Cemeteries – La Recoleta, Buenos Aires: A Tour in 32 Photos

Last year a CNN correspondent listed Buenos Aires’s la Recoleta among the world’s 10 most beautiful cemeteries. As pomposity, style and grandeur go, the final resting place for many of Argentina’s most rich and powerful who passed on over the past two centuries is difficult to beat. And it is also beautiful. Here is a gallery of 32 photos to prove my point.

Inaugurated in November 1822, the cemetery since named for the affluent neighborhood in Buenos Aires in which it rests has grown to 5.5 hectares (14 acres) in size and to contain 4,691 vaults, many of them ornately decorated and intricately sculpted.

The main streets are pleasantly tree-lined, evoking a not-so-far away eternal spring, or less ethereally, a relaxing big city park where it’s easy to escape the hubbub that is just outside the walls that seal the cemetery in. I was fortunate to have my two-hour stroll around the grounds interrupted by a refreshing summer rain; there really is no better time to visit with the ivy-bathed marble gods and goddesses in South America’s most famous necropolis. [See a 30-second video of the la Recoleta rains here.]

Most architectural styles of the last half millennium are on display —Baroque, neo-gothic, art deco and art nouveau among them— giving the cemetery a very European feel. Indeed most of the mausoleums, monuments and sculptures built between 1880 and 1930 were made with materials imported from Paris and Milan, not unlike many of the city’s newcomers who migrated to Argentina around the turn of the last century.

It’s not all glamour and pomposity. Many of the tombs have fallen into disrepair; shattered windows and broken coffins aren’t too difficult to find inside the crumbling crypts. Architecturally it’s crowded. Many mausoleums have been built so close together that it’s impossible to walk between or around them.

It’s among the most popular sites in the Argentine capital, with tourists far out-numbering mourners. La Recoleta has become famous for its cats too, and the spiders weaving webs over and around just about every life-sized statue and monument.

The most popular destination is the Duarte family vault where arguably the world’s best known Argentine, Eva Peron, is buried. Five images below.

An aside: I used Buenos Aires: A Cultural History by Jason Wilson as my main guidebook around the city while visiting, referring to it and stealing notes from it much more often than from my Lonely Planet. It’s a fascinating and authoritative look at the city through the words of novelists, travelers, journalists and poets, organized primarily by neighborhood. If you’re planning a visit, I strongly suggest reading it before you arrive. And continue to once you’re there. And take lots of notes. On Recoleta, Wilson collected and recollected:

V.S. Naipaul called it a “mimic city”; Juan Jose Sebreli mocked it as “the last surprise party of a dying class”; Florence Escardo called in a “cyst” on the city; Ezequiel Martinez Estrada more simply, in a poem, called it “the miniature city.” The Argentine novelist Martin Cullen more exactly evoked “a palladian miniature of the city, with illusional vistas.”

 

Below, the tomb of Raúl Alfonsín, Argentina’s first president after the fall of the military dictatorship in 1983. First two images show the reflection of afternoon light across the walkway from Alfonsín’s mausoleum. [More about Argentina’s Dirty War of the 1970s and 1980s is here.]

The high walls that surround it on all sides played leading roles in many episodes of the country’s darker past: early 19th century caudillo Juan Manuel de Rosas had enemies executed there and more recently during the Dirty War of the 1970s paramilitary assassins in the government’s employ dumped bodies over them. Again from Wilson:

In his Mis memorias [My Reminiscences, 1904] Lucio Mansilla, Rosas’ nephew, remembered how the Recoleta was associated with death-sqyad activity: “We followed along the corrales, or slaughter house, that lay behind the Recoleta, so many crows! The horses got scared and refused to budge. They did not want to go forward. It was useless egging them on, beating them.. What is this? The driver answered without hesitation, ‘some dead men with their throats slit.”

 

And finally just a few lines from this translation of La Recoleta, a poem by Jorge Luis Borges, one of Argentina’s most respected men of letters:

Vibrant in swords and passion
and asleep in the ivy,
life exists alone.

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Cemeterio de la Recoleta
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Date: January 2013
Weather conditions: sunny, cloudy, rainy, post-rain

All images (c) Bob Ramsak 2014. All rights reserved.
For stock or editorial use please get in touch.
For print purchases please visit here; for greeting cards and post cards here.

 

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  1. Erin says

    Let me just pick my jaw up off the floor as these are so hauntingly beautiful. They remind me of the cemeteries in New Orleans that I have visited. The illusion the water droplets give, that the statues are crying is just so eerie and poignant. Wonderful work, Bob.

    1. Bob R says

      Thanks, Erin. There is no shortage of photo-ops here. Being there during and after a rain was a big added bonus.

  2. Fred YummyPlanet says

    It reminds me the “Père Lachaise” cemetery in Paris. Have you ever visited it? You would like it I’m sure.

    1. Bob R says

      Yes, have been there. Have visited several of the big Paris cemeteries. Those are exceptionally fun. A hike and history lesson in one. 🙂

  3. Muza-chan says

    Great photos 🙂

  4. Maria Alexandra @LatinAbroad says

    your photos are absolutely stunning: do you know that?! They evoke a variety of feelings, emotions. That photo on the post’s header literally took my breath away. Wow! like another poster said: “hauntingly beautiful.” Bravo…

    -Maria Alexandra

    1. Bob R says

      Thanks Maria, much appreciated. Glad you enjoyed and thanks for the tweet!

  5. Adelina | PackMeTo says

    I actually quite like exploring cemeteries. There is just so much history there and the old world ones are stunning.

    1. Bob R says

      Big fan of visiting cemeteries. I’ve got a few other posts in the pipelines from visits to cemeteries from my 7-month trip through South America last year.

  6. noel says

    I love cemeteries and this would be an amazing place to explore, gorgeous!

    1. Bob R says

      It really is one of the most beautiful in the world.

  7. Samantha @mytanfeet says

    I would never have really expected a cemetery to have the art and architecture like this one, I’m amazed! Some of those statue photos… I just have so many feels right now! haha

    1. Bob R says

      This one is very European in that sense. Many cemeteries on the continent are extremely ornate.

  8. alison says

    I love exploring cemeteries whenever I can. It gives you such a sense of history in your location. We have some great ones here in the Boston area, filled with all sorts of people from American history. Photos are gorgeous.

    1. Bob R says

      Yeah, I’m sure some of those in Boston and New England are interesting, most of the oldest the US has to offer.

  9. budget jan says

    I love the flower shot and the cobweb shot. Do you know why the eyes of the statues have been dug out? This is very common in old statues, frescoes and etchings in Turkey also.

    1. Bob R says

      I’m not 100% certain, but I do know that in Europe and the middle east, eyes were originally painted or decorated with colored stones, etc. That’s probably the case here too.

      1. budget jan says

        Oh I had not considered that at all, interesting.

  10. Marcia says

    This isn’t like any cemetery I’ve ever seen. It is beautiful, reverential, a very moving tribute to those who have passed.
    BTW, are you in any way connected to the Jose Piran in your photo?

    1. Bob R says

      🙂 Nope, no relation. Just couldn’t pass up the exceptionally rare opportunity to snap a photo of someone with that surname. 🙂

  11. Gabor Kovacs says

    I really liked your photo tour, you took your time to photograph the small details of this beautiful cemetery and showed people that this cemetery is much more beauty than just the tomb of Eva Perón. When we visited this cemetery I was half sick, so I didn’t have the patience that time to do such a detailed photographic tour, although as you know I love photography and I am fond of visiting cemeteries. Thanks for this great post!

    1. Bob R says

      I could have spent all day there snapping photos, but it was getting hot so had to move on after a couple hours. 🙂

  12. Henry | @fotoeins says

    Love this place! Definitely representing a different slice of “porteño” history and life. Nice find with the wasps’/hornets’ nest there! Most/all go to see Evita, but it’s the other graves, memorials, and mausoleums that make Recoleta very special. Did you also check out the cats there? As you and many others will have seen, there are a “few” cats out and about in the B.A. Thanks for writing about this, Bob!

    1. Bob R says

      I realize that it’s sacrilege to admit it on the internet, but I’m not a big fan of cats. So tried to avoid them at La Recoleta. And elsewhere too, as much as logistically possible. 🙂

  13. Nancie says

    Your photos are gorgeous! I love all the statues. They really add a lot of atmosphere. I recently posted about the Burial Grounds in Halifax. Not quite as grand as La Recolata, but historically very interesting, and some of the headstones are remarkably well preserved. Thanks for linking up this week!

    1. Bob R says

      Thanks Nancie, and thanks also for the reminder – I’ll be taking another look at your Halifax post.

  14. Great article and photos! I remember i spent hours there when I first visited. The only other cemetery that impressed me almost as much as the one in Recoleta was the one in Punta Arenas in Chile! Also the one in Sucre, Bolivia was quite beautiful

    1. Bob R says

      Looks like we were on the same Cemetery route. 🙂 I’ll be put up a post on the Punta Arenas cemetery soon. Another amazing place.

  15. Raphael Alexander Zoren says

    Amazing photos! I’ve been there a couple of times and there’s always something new to discover. I once saw a Pirate-themed grave (complete with natural spider’s webs!). Another time I saw a dog barking at the statue of the little girl and her puppy hahah, hilarous!

    1. Bob R says

      Now that’s something I wish I would have seen: a dog barking at ghosts cast in concrete. 🙂

  16. Proved your point Bob ;)! Beautiful and love your detail shots!

    1. Bob R says

      Thanks!

  17. You know, I’m about to do a post about cemeteries as well.
    There are some really great ones.
    I’ve just been to Pere Lachaise in Paris, and tomorrow I’ll visit Turin’s Monumentale.
    I didn’t know about Buenos Aires one, and it’s charming indeed.
    Great photos!

    1. Bob R says

      Pere Lachaise is wonderful too. The larger post-Columbian ones I visited in South America are very European in many senses, which isn’t too surprising. But that ‘style’ stops at the US border where the majority of cemeteries are very different.

  18. Christine says

    Very beautiful photos. I love visiting cemeteries in different countries. Its so interesting to learn about different parts of the world and their view on death.

  19. Lyn says

    Absolutely beautiful pictures and fantastic photography. I loved this article and enjoy cemeteries myself. I use to live by an old Australian country cemetery and would visit often wondering through reading headstones. Last year in Paris spent some time at the Montmartre cemetery.

    1. Bob R says

      Thanks, much appreciated. Montmartre and other Parisian cemeteries are fabulous, open air history museums. So was this one, but made up mainly of names I’d never heard of.

  20. Pablo says

    This would be an awesome place to explore. I like your image after it rained where the accumulated water reflects the structures.

  21. Ashley @ A Southern Gypsy says

    Gorgeous photos as usual Bob! I love visiting cemeteries and the Eva Peron one is pretty cool! 🙂

    1. Bob R says

      Yeah, she still attracts a crowd. 🙂

  22. Ashley and Alex says

    This cemetary looks hauntingly beautiful and you could not have captured the emotion more beautifully. Gorgeous pictures!

    1. Bob R says

      Glad you enjoyed and many thanks for visiting. 🙂

  23. Peter Thomas says

    I didn’t believe that there are beautiful cemeteries because I feel sad whenever I visit one but you have change my mind with these amazing pictures. Thank you for sharing it.

  24. MightyTravels says

    Recoleta is beautiful – it’s just stunning the a cemetery is a city’s most famous sight. Always made me wonder 🙂 Btw just followed you on Twitter as well – looking forward to connect! Torsten

    1. Bob R says

      Thanks, will find you on twitter as well – thanks for stopping by. 🙂

  25. Sharon says

    Just beautiful! I loved exploring this cemetery. It is definitely a must see in Buenos Aires.

  26. Marilyn Jones says

    Amazing photography; simply amazing!

  27. Laura says

    Great photos. The cobwebs are especially cool.

  28. […] Santiago 2. Joby’s Gorillapod SLR-Zoom – an 85-Second Review – self-explanatory, no? 1. The World’s Most Beautiful Cemeteries – La Recoleta, Buenos Aires: A Tour in 32 Photos – A stroll through one of the most popular attractions in the Argentine […]

  29. Jennifer says

    I never visit cemeteries, but they really do have some beautiful statues.

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