Off The Beaten Path

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Recoleta

Beauty in Quiet Places

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A visit to Buenos Aires would not be complete without a visit to Recoleta, a very distinctive community among the many notable neighborhoods in the city proper. Realizing that Buenos Aires is the known as “The Paris of South America”, there is European flavor (literally) around every corner — no less here.

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Each day holds vast potential for festival as artistic street vendors and entertainers alike vie for the kind of attention that reflects a city’s cultural dimensions and flair for the unique; holding a traveller’s fascination through a host of impromptu frivolity and an ever-present opportunity to experience the Tango.

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Seeming central (yet somewhat aloof ) to the street fairs, coffee shops and boutique shopping interspersed among classy high rise apartments, the neighborhood includes a place where some of the most esteemed residents of Argentina dwell.

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Located next to the Church of Our Lady of Pilar, the Recoleta cemetery was established in 1822; but first, as a garden of the church and convent of monks in the Order of the Recoletos. Later the grounds became a public cemetery, prior to evolution towards exclusivity: A final respite of the Argentine elite. The city-block layout was accomplished by architect and civil engineer Próspero Catelin, also known for the current facade of the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral.

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From a moment’s entrance through ornate gates you realize you’re in a special place; a place where monuments take on humanistic qualities and angels provide ethereal insight from the loftiest of heights, standing guard over famous and infamous alike.

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Mauseleums and statues imported from Europe boast classy design equivalent to the residents, artistry in Art deco, Art Nouveau, Baroque and Neo Gothic. And even in the eternity of it all it’s clearly about whom you were and what you possessed in terms of familial “deep pockets” and Argentine influence, perfectly reflected in each a marbled structure or stained glass splendor.

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Within these structures are presidents, dignitaries, generals, educators, literary figures, entrepreneurs, and visionaries from the pages of Argentine history. It’s a wonderful place to sit and reflect. And like most places of its kind it offers a touch of tranquility amid a city’s fast-pace.

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The true benefit in being there is that Recoleta attempts to portray a reenactment of life in death, amid the confines of artistic design and architecture constructed with such tenacity to survive shifting political views, the passage of time, and in the case of the tomb of Eva Perón, an atomic bomb.

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Evita – Argentine First Lady, “Spiritual Leader of the Nation”, considered to be a champion of the people, spectacularly interesting and highly controversial in life, she was no less so in death. The mausoleum that holds the body of Eva Perón (María Eva Duarte de Perón) is a popular Recoleta attraction. Eva died of Cancer in 1952 but was “final rested” in the 1970s by her husband (President) Juan’s third wife, Isabel Perón, then President herself.

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In the period between her death and final entombment, Eva’s body was kept in seclusion and apparently well-travelled during an approximate sixteen years following the Revolución Libertadora. It is said that at one point Eva’s remains were placed in a place of prominence in the dining room of Juan and Isabel during the Peróns’ European exile. Confused? Read a book/ see a movie; either way it’s all put to rest in Recoleta.

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Celebrity aside, there’s nothing like a nice stroll through time along tree lined walkways with benches and cross-secting opportunities to contemplate mausoleums hosting tiered rooms of austere family names. Through the years mausoleums have changed hands as other families assumed prominence – and fortune, possibly assuming they might – in some way, “take it with them” through proper positioning here; acquiring a right to endure among the elite for an eternity.

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And time further tells a story in the distinction between those mausoleums that are kept and those not; a show of love — or not, further committing the sins of the past to the fickle nature of the present.

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Recoleta: Beauty in Quiet Places © Pamela Kelly Phillips, 2012
All photographic images (non-video) are © Pamela Kelly Phillips,
PK Phillips Photography, 2011

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