Splendid Death in Buenos Aires

The Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires is seductive.  Even if one has no interest in visiting Evita’s tomb, it’s easy to get lured in by the statues and spires that beckon to one from over the high brick wall.  These photographs were taken on a hot, humid afternoon in January 2011.

The cemetery is laid out like a tiny city, with mausoleums condensed on every block. This is one of the ‘streets’ of the cemetery.

Some of the mausoleums are like tiny temples.  Others are miniature chapels that the family may enter to pray or commune with their deceased ancestors.  Some of the structures are more austere than they are contemplative, rather like tiny bank lobbies.












Nearly every architectural style is represented in the Recoleta Cemetery.  Swooping Art Nouveau sculpture and iron grill work, imposing Art Deco facades, Baroque cupids, and Greek laurel wreaths in stone laid on soldier’s tombs.  And many religions are observed — one mausoleum contains both a Star of David and a Crucifix.

Just in case.












Elegant grill work often protects the windows and doors of the structures and, on the right, creates ample opportunities for spiders to start their homes.












The windows into the tombs offer surprising views.  Some boldly invite the public in to look at the deceased’s new home.  Other windows make one feel like a window peeker gazing into the private chamber of someone who is no longer capable of shooing you away.

Many of the mausoleums have a grill which can be lifted in order to carry more caskets to store below ground.  Above is a family of caskets, including what looks like containers for ashes, and an infant-size casket.

How long ago did someone fill these vases with flowers and light the candles?

Sometimes the stained glass panels of the structures fail, or the lights in the roof leak. Moisture gets into the interior and the plaster begins to flake onto the marble altar. Occasionally seeds fly in and little plants germinate.  The whole thing becomes an accidental terrarium.  At worst the shelves fail and the caskets topple onto one another, sometimes unsealing the lid.

The beauty of the Recoleta Cemetery is animated in the many bas relief and sculptures.












In the bas relief on the left a mother weeps at her child’s cradle as an angel sweeps the infant skyward.  On the right an angel’s powerful wing wraps around the door to the tomb.












Some may see these displays as a preoccupation with death and a compulsion to bury it in splendor.

Others recognize the mysterious veil between life and death, rendered in stone.


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