The narrow winding paths of mausoleums resemble tiny streets in this a miniature city known to locals and travelers alike as the city of the dead. Recoleta Cemetery, in the upscale Recoleta neighbourhood of Buenos Aires, is the final resting place for many of Argentina’s most wealthiest and famous families whose bodies lie hidden within beautifully crafted crypts adorned with intricate cravings and stunning life-like statues. But unbeknownst to many travelers, the Recoleta Cemetery has a rich mystical atmosphere, filled to the brim with urban legends and guardians who watch over the city.
Known to the world as Evita or Eva Peron, tourists looking for that specific name will find numerous phrases and photos etched into the marble facade of her family mausoleum. Groups of tourists and locals are also often found crowded around the monument snapping photos or leaving a few flowers to pay homage. But, Evita is not the only famous person within the cemetery; many important individuals and families, including past Argentine presidents, Nobel Prize winners and even the grand-daughter of Napoleon also call the cemetery home. The impressive list of names found on these marble and stone buildings also means that a spot in this cemetery is not only expensive but also highly coveted. In fact, due to the high demand, the cemetery has a waiting list for potential future inhabitants.
But the dead are not the only residents of Recoleta Cemetary. The cemetery is also home to a small colony of cats who are known as the watchful guardians of the many tombs that lay on the cemetery grounds. They often wander around or relax in the sunshine and are friendly enough to pet. These cats are cared for by locales, which feed them, spay or neuter them or take them to the local veterinarian when needed. Some believe that these cats are the guardians of the cemetery, keeping a watchful eye on the souls that have come to rest within the gates of this miniature city. It will never be clear why this particular cemetery is home to so many felines, but their constant presence is quite odd. The belief that these cats are the possible vessels of a spiritual entity has also led to the unwritten law that forbids visitors to take them home.
My personal walk through the cemetery brought forth conflicting feelings of peace and uneasiness. Although located in one of the busiest neighbourhood in Buenos Aires, the area offers tourists a repose from the daily nuisances of the city. Inside there is only silence and with it comes a certain degree of peace. This peace was at times interrupted. Urban legends run rampant in this cemetery and my mind often drifted towards the possibility of supernatural beings that either possessed the statues or the living animals that lingering on the premises. Before passing through the towering iron gates that guarded this city, a friend of mine told me about the tomb of Liliana Crociati de Szaszak and her dog. Her story, albeit a little unimpressive, became more eerie when my friend shared that the tomb was almost always guarded by a cat. Sure enough as we inched closer to Liliana’s tomb, we noticed the outline of a furry feline sitting comfortably just in front of the statue. My friend then convinced me to rub the dog’s nose for good luck. This promise of a supernatural presence coupled with the historical richness of this tiny city within a city, occupied hours upon hours of our time. We lingered past closing and as I exited I found myself yearning to re-enter so as to explore just a little bit more.
In the end, whether you believe in these stories or not, the Recoleta Cemetery is an eerily enticing experience that many should not miss. The cats definitely add to the mysterious atmosphere that encompasses this city of the dead. If you plan on visiting the cemetery than you will be happy to know that entry is completely free and there are also free tours in English on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 11 am. The Cemetery is located right beside at Plaza Francia and is opened daily from 8am to 6pm. Plaza Francia is also home to the Recoleta artisanal market that runs every Saturday and Sunday from 10 am to 6 pm.