Comparing Recoletas: Cemeteries in Santiago vs. Buenos Aires

A few weeks ago I wrote about Santiago’s Cementerio General, which is in the Recoleta neighborhood in Santiago. I’m a big fan of this cemetery. It’s gigantic, beautiful, and there is so much history.

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A view of Recoleta Cemetery from the mall across the street.

I was excited to go to the Recoleta Cemetery which is also in the neighborhood called Recoleta in Buenos Aires. It’s no coincidence that they are both called Recoleta. The name refers to an order of monks (Franciscanos Recoletos) that had their monasteries in these neighborhoods and one of their missions was to take care of the dead. The Recoleta neighborhood in Buenos Aires is a very nice upper middle class neighborhood filled with lots of cafes and little shops. In Santiago, it is a working class neighborhood that is admittedly not as picturesque.

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A fairly ornate mausoleum at Recoleta.

However, the Cementerio General in Santiago is MUCH bigger, more interesting, and I would even argue more beautiful than Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires. Granted, I have lived in Chile a long time and am much more familiar with Chilean historical figures, so it’s interesting for me to go see their graves. I’m not so well versed in Argentine history, so my visit to Recoleta was more about gawking at the ornate gravestones and mausoleums.

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Evita’s much simpler grave.

I do know one Argentine historical figure pretty well, and I enjoyed seeing Evita’s grave. We also saw Carlos Pellegrini’s grave, whose name we recognized from the name of a subte stop near our hostel. We later looked him up on google and found out he was a former president of Argentina from 1890-1892. So, we even learned something new!

It was also raining the day we went, and we didn’t have a guide to explain to us about the history of those buried in the cemetery. I probably would have enjoyed it a bit more if my feet had been drier and I had actually learned something about the figures buried there (Carlos Pellegrini notwithstanding).

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The rainy day set the somber mood, appropriate for a cemetery.

The tombs were ornate and elaborate, that is for sure. However, it was all very crowded together in tiny alleyways. The whole cemetery isn’t more than one square block. The Cementerio General in Santiago is over 85 hectares large and has over 2 million people buried in it. It has roads that go through it.

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One of the very narrow passageways at Recoleta.

Anyway, that’s my take on the two cemeteries. I’m not saying don’t go to Recoleta in Buenos Aires. It’s interesting, but unless you are an Argentine History buff, you don’t need more than an hour to see the whole thing.

However, I am saying MAKE SURE you go to the Cementerio General in Santiago, and give yourself at least a half a day to explore. It’s huge, and very impressive.

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Beautiful Buenos Aires Architecture

The one thing that really awed me about Buenos Aires was the beautiful architecture. It was everywhere. Walking around downtown, it seemed like everywhere I looked there was an impressive building. Here in Santiago, we have a few architectural gems, but unfortunately, due to the seismic nature of the country, most of them have been destroyed over the years. So Buenos Aires definitely wins in the architectural department.

Here are some of my favorite buildings and statues.

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This is the Congreso, the National Congress building. It was exquisite. I know nothing about architecture, but I know that this building was gorgeous. I loved all the intricate details and the chariot of horses near the dome.

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This is just one part of an impressive looking statue that was in front of the Congreso.

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This statue is on the front patio of the Casa Rosada, where the President of Argentina works (not lives, the same as the Moneda Palace in Santiago). The side of the Casa Rosada that you always see in pictures (see below) is actually the back. The front is all gated off, but on our walk to Puerto Madero, we discovered this impressive statue to Cristopher Colombus, aka Cristobal Colón in Spanish, aka Cristoforo Colombo in Italian, which was what was written on this statue. (Figures, there is a HUGE Italian influence in Buenos Aires). Colombus is quite a controversial figure, and I won’t get into that here, I just thought the statue was worth photographing.

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Taken from the Plaza de Mayo, this isn’t my best picture of the Casa Rosada, but it’s the only one that demonstrates a peculiarity about the building: it’s not symmetrical! Annoying! Although it wasn’t one of my favorite buildings architecturally speaking, I still liked it and its pink color is definitely distinctive. Plus, if you’ve ever seen Evita, you have to go see the Casa Rosada. The balcony where Eva Duarte de Perón (and Madonna in the movie) addressed the crowds is on the left, right above the CI in DEMOCRACIA in the picture. The shooting of the film in Argentina was very controversial, and the Argentinean authorities didn’t want to grant permission for the cast and crew to use the Casa Rosada in the film. However, playing upon President Carlos Menem’s ego, the producers arranged a meeting with Madonna in return for being able to use the balcony for that famous scene.

Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires

I’m not even sure what these last buildings were, but they were pretty, so I took pictures. I loved just walking around Buenos Aires and seeing these building everywhere. I think that is one of the reasons that people call Buenos Aires “the Paris of South America” or say that it’s a European city. I definitely got that vibe.