The Recoleta Cemetery is one of the landmarks of Buenos Aires, and I was at first a little doubtful about visiting it. I am glad we decided to go take a look though. It is a fascinating place, and utterly different from anything I had imagined.
As you enter, it feels like you have entered a little city of miniature houses. The small, fenced property is full of crisscrossing, narrow, cobble stoned alleys, with what look like miniature houses stacked along the sides. The main alley is lined with trees, and looks very pleasant.
The story goes that in the mid 1700s, this location used to be a garden within The Monastery of Barefoot Franciscan Recoleto Monks, who found the area's tranquility ideal for "recollection". The monks were removed from there by the city governor in the 1800s, and this exclusive cemetery was created in the monastery's gardens instead.
There is a strangeness and beauty to this place that was very unexpected for me. Tourists cluster around the more famous of the tombs, but you always can find a few alleys that are empty. These look like the streets of an abandoned city, whose Lilliput inhabitants locked their homes and left long ago. It is strange to think that the inhabitants are in fact right in there. It is a little morbid, but very unique.
Various architectural styles are displayed here, and each grave is indicative of the fashions of the time when it was built. Yet they all exist side by side, creating a very jumbled canvas.
Several famous and influential personalities are buried here. The most popular of them being María Eva Duarte Perón (Evita), Argentina's former first lady. There was a crowd of tourists around this simple (compared to the others) tomb, so I rushed quickly past it, clicking a hurried photo.
This cemetery has inspired poets and writers over the years, such as Borges (poem La Recoleta, 1923), and writer Martin Caparros. And one can see why.
Even though there were many tourists walking about there, there was a certain romantic quality to the place that was undeniable. The mossy walls, intricate and beautiful architecture, graceful angels, and narrow alleys, with the light of the setting sun casting interesting shadows ... all made the place very interesting to photograph.
In a place like this, with layers of history visible at every turn in such a small plot, one is acutely aware of the transience of lives; even entire eras. Great wars are fought and entire lives are lived under violence. We can never really own land, expect perhaps a burial plot ... and it's a beautiful world out there. The futility of violence and conflict is all the more poignant in such a location ...
This picture below is my most favorite of this set. Just because I feel it has captured the mood of the place, the way I saw it.
To end on a more cheerful note, we saw several long-haired, lazy cats wandering around in the alleyways there, looking totally at home. We also saw one person put out some cat food for them, so it looks like they are well fed too!
I wished I could take an entire series of photographs just on "The cats of Recoleta!" But we were in a rush, so that will have to wait.