Thursday, March 21, 2013

A City Within A City - Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires

Written by Karen.
Recoleta Cemetery
I like to wander around cemeteries.  Not because I’m ghoulish or have a secret death wish, but because it’s an insight into the way life was.  It’s a bit like walking through history. Whether the architecture of the final farewell is grand and elaborate or simply expressed on a weathered piece of wood - it’s not so much about the money, or the lack of money, that I find so interesting - but the heartfelt regard that in a few words defines a life lived.  

Buenos Aires has what has often been called one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world.  The Recoleta Cemetery was created in 1822 and became the first public cemetery in Buenos Aires.  For a cemetery that is about 14 acres in size, holds 4,691 above-ground vaults and is located in the middle of one of the most exclusive neighborhoods in Buenos Aires, it was surprisingly difficult to find.  If you don’t look carefully, you’ll miss the cemetery entirely.  Which is what we did when we attempted to do so - several times.  Maybe there’s a subconscious fear at work?

This time, it wasn’t so much that it was hard to locate - as in getting lost - but rather the cemetery fits (surprisingly so) into the exclusive Recoleta neighborhood.  The cemetery holds its own, like a city within a city, or as yet another distinct neighborhood within a city.  The tomb structures, vaults, domes, and angular roofs within the Recoleta Cemetery become part of the surrounding cityscape with its ornate Spanish, Italian and French architecture. In that sense, the Recoleta Cemetery fits in extraordinarily well with its exclusive living neighbors. The significant difference is the current state of the reclining inhabitants.  

We walked around the very tall brick wall that surrounds the cemetery and through the Doric columns and then into the Recoleta Cemetery.  Besides a tour group or two that was scurrying around trying to locate specific tombs within their allotted one-hour time frame, we mostly had the place to ourselves - just like the deceased do when the tourists rush back to their idling buses.  

We spent several hours wandering throughout the grid-like streets of Recoleta Cemetery.  We saw tall and resplendent monuments contrasted with crumbling and decaying vaults; modern and crisp edifices and simple good-byes; small chapels and soaring angels; and statues of what once was and statues of what was hoped for again.  The rust on the gates was genuine.  It is a patina that reminds us that death is always much longer than life. 

I was surprised by how many vaults were in an advanced state of decay and no longer maintained.  What happened to those families who placed their loved one(s) in these now forgotten vaults, I wondered.  It’s eerie to see the unprotected coffins, urns and personal effects break down; over time they too will become just dust.  Even temples dedicated to the dead - or to their memories - need to be remodeled over time.  If death were not so final, you might argue that it is quite trendy - everybody does it!  

Recoleta Cemetery is indeed a beautiful place, offering quietude in the midst of a very large city.   As you walk past the whispers of another day and time, it provides an opportunity to reflect about the hopes, dreams and aspirations of those who live within - as well as those who live outside - these city walls. 

The tall brick wall that surrounds the 14-acre Recoleta Cemetery.  
The cemetery is arranged in a grid fashion that is reminiscent of city streets, complete with lamp poles. You can see the office and apartment buildings straight ahead in the distance.


David in SF said...

Such beautiful pictures, one can almost sense the serene peacefulness that must have blanketed the area

Jennifer Chase said...

Amazing photographs! Thanks for sharing --

Observers of Life said...

Hi David!

You could get lost just wandering through the different streets of the cemetery. It was very quiet - almost like being in a church, or like when the first snow has fallen.


Observers of Life said...

Hi Jennifer!

Thanks! It's great to hear from you!


Departamentos Buenos Aires said...

Muy buenoooooo!!!!!!!!!

Observers of Life said...

Muchas Gracias! :)