Angel Atop Cypt: Recoleta Cemetery

Decadence and Decay in Recoleta Cemetery

Considered one of the most important cemeteries in the world (in size and grandeur) alongside Paris’s Père-Lachaise cemetery, Buenos Aires’ El Cemeterio de la Recoleta features on most visitors’ list of things to do.

Entrace to the Recoleta Cemetery

Valuable real estate

Taking up many hectares and built almost like a small village of narrow streets, the cemetery impresses on both an architectural and historical level; as a huge portion of Argentina’s historical figures are buried here, many in crypts resembling small palaces.

Incredibly, a square metre of land at the cemetery has regular real estate value, costing as much as as it would “out there,” in the affluent neighbourhood of Recoleta itself.  Remembering that many crypts feature several levels, this means that a plot of land (before building and regardless of the lavishness of morseleum design) will set you back a minimum of around US$100,000.

Recoleta CemeteryFor many families, the expensive upkeep of such a piece of real estate is simply too much.  In other cases, the death of Uncle Miguel and Aunty Maria one hundred years ago and subsequent construction of their crypt is simply too distant a family story to be remembered by iphone-toting, 14-year-old Cristian and his family…who simply don’t know that their family owns land in the cemetery.

In such times, the family crypt is left to rot.  Glass doors crack.  Weeds take over.  Coffins gather dust.

Dusty Coffins at Recoleta Cemetery

It’s a stark contrast:  The extravagance and wealth of some families’ crypts with the ruined decay of others.

Crypt belonging to Luis Federico Leloir: Recoleta Cemetery
Crypt belonging to Luis Federico Leloir, Nobel Prize winner.

Abandoned Crypt: Recoleta Cemetery

In the end though, the forgotten crypts became my favourites.  Possibly it’s because of the initial weird-out presented by the coffins themselves being on full display, and the subsequent spooky movie that plays out in your mind.  But there was something very poignant about them.  Especially when the still intact stained-glass window let you see scenes like these…

Stained-glass Window in Abandoned Crypt

Stained-glass Window in Abandoned Crypt

How can someone whose passing was felt so keenly that an elaborate morseleum be constructed be forgotten so profoundly?

Raul Alfonsin's Grave in Recoleta Cemetary
Ex-President Raul Alfonsin’s Grave

Are such memorials really the best way to remember our loved ones?  Are they simply a show of wealth?

Forgotten Family Crypt: Recoleta Cemetery
Entire generations forgotten

Did various indigenous tribes have a better idea when they adorned their companions in beautiful clothes and  sent them off on a raft to be dealt with once again by nature?

Angel Atop Cypt: Recoleta Cemetery

In any case, the theme of death, the afterlife and how best to remember our loved ones will  continue to fascinate modern culture, just as it always did our ancestors.

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3 thoughts on “Decadence and Decay in Recoleta Cemetery

    1. That was the best part about the place, and a great surpriseas I found those crypts late in my time there. You can miss such beautiful places if you take a “wrong” turn there!! 🙂

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