My Necropolis is Bigger than Your Necropolis

2006.Apr.14 Friday · 7 comments

in Life

Entrance to Chacarita CemeteryBuenos Aires – Cementerio Recoleta may get all the press, it gets the tour buses, it has the surrounding touristy restaurants, the weekend artesanal fair, and, of course, the crowds that flock to gape at Evita’s tomb. It takes up a space roughly two by two city blocks, and it’s conveniently located to everything, including its attached shopping mall and cultural center. Cementerio Chacarita is at the end of a subway line (until the extension is finished, eventually), there’s an open air city bus terminal located along the main street nearby, there’s a dingy train station, and, well, let’s face it, it was created during the yellow fever epidemic of the 1800s for the common people. It takes up a space approximately nine by eight city blocks – in fact, I think Recoleta could fit into its entry plaza.

Panoramic view inside the entrance to Chacarita Cemetery

When you step inside the multi-story columned entrance-way it’s quite simply awe inspiring. Stretching away pretty much as far as you can see are streets, not pathways, some of them with cars, motorcycles, or bicycles cruising up and down, and lined with mausoleums for those families or organizations with money. The plan is spiderwebbed, much as Recoleta is, but it’s big enough to require a map, with named streets, in order to find where you’re going. Famed tango singer Carlos Gardel is buried here; as is former president Juan Peron (his family didn’t have enough political clout, and he wasn’t in sufficiently good favor to get into Recoleta).

Off to the left of the main dragOff to the right of the main drag

Colored stone memorial inside Chacarita cemeteryAt the far end of the main drag you enter what looks like a park area, with a beautifully artistic memorial of colored stones stretching out into the distance. And there are indeed areas where people sit on benches, or on the grass, or just wander around through the grass and trees.

But the park is deceptive, as you quickly discover what Chacarita terms it’s “galleries” – nearly two dozen of them, each consisting of two levels of thousands of underground drawers. But then, off there to the right side is an above ground three story building with more and more drawers. And along the far northern wall, set into the wall in fact, an open air stacking of drawers, with a rolling ladder to provide access – possibly the low rent district? And it doesn’t stop there. There’s a more typical graveyard just beyond, with headstones and wooden crosses. And further on, the official British and German cemeteries maintain their separateness from the local folk.

Underground galleries in Chacarita cemeteryAbove ground gallery in Chacarita cemeteryThe wall of remainsGraveyard in Chacarita cemetery

For those who find cemeteries fascinating, and there are enough of us, and want to avoid busloads of snapshot snapping, video-taking, tour groups that spend a whole ten minutes making it from their bus to Evita’s tomb and back to the bus to continue on to their next tourism adventure; Chacarita is for you.

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