When visiting a place for such a short period of time, you might think it’s strange to go to the same thing twice. But during my too quick April voyage to Buenos Aires in Argentina, I returned to the Cementerio de la Recoleta on my fifth day. Although the cemetery is very compact and not as sprawling as larger rural-style cemeteries I have explored, you could wander Recoleta Cemetery for days without catching all the details and stories of its eternal residents.
For example, my first stop in Recoleta I had missed the grave of Rufina Cambaceres. Poor Rufina was accidentally buried alive in 1902 on what would have been her 19th birthday (or I guess it still actually was, worst birthday ever). When she awoke inside her coffin, she tried to claw her way out, eventually dying of a heart attack. Cemetery workers who had heard noises coming from her tomb opened it and discovered the shredded fabric of her casket.
It was the sunniest day yet of my trip. We walked under spotless blue skies that let sunlight sink through cracks and broken windows into the dark interiors of the mausoleums. I ventured to look inside through my camera and found unsettling scenes of decay.
It was a good day for angel spotting. In all elegant shapes, they were perched on the peaks of mausoleums, almost always gazing down at us. Maybe it doesn’t mean anything, but I feel like most of the angels in my neighborhood cemetery, Green-Wood, are looking to the skies.
Human statues were down at our level, including this intimidating lifesize representation of boxer Luis Ángel Firpo. Nicknamed the “Wild Bull of the Pampas,” the over six-feet-tall boxer had a “murderous” punch that could knock out a man at a single blow. His fighting victories are engraved on his mausoleum.
On this visit, we also stopped at the Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar, which is right next to the cemetery. The church is where many of the elite families in Buenos Aires have their weddings, and I presume funerals.
The beautiful white building was constructed in 1732 in a German Baroque-style. I liked this unexpected clock on top of one of its bell towers.
Right inside we were confronted with this strange altar including two human skulls. All my internet research has yet to turn up anything about them. Who were they? It appears there are other relics or maybe memorials surrounding them.
I wasn’t able to see it, but I read that tunnels in the basilica’s crypt used to lead to other parts of the city. The area we were able to see was lovely, though, and the ornate altar was especially stunning. Also, I couldn’t help but wonder how many times they have to repaint the interior and exterior of the church in that pristine white.
There are still more Buenos Aires adventures to come!