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.
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.
For 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.
It’s a stark contrast: The extravagance and wealth of some families’ crypts with the ruined decay of others.
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…
How can someone whose passing was felt so keenly that an elaborate morseleum be constructed be forgotten so profoundly?
Are such memorials really the best way to remember our loved ones? Are they simply a show of wealth?
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?
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.