Cemeteries are portals between worlds. They’re places where lives which once were stand now discreetly before unrelenting time. A visit to an old cemetery, one with only unknown names and broken symbols, could only be a job for a true romantic poet. In the 19th century, Percy Bysshe Shelley called them “an open space among the ruins,” places capable of making us fall in love with death. Today, one of the most beautiful and powerful cemeteries, one that imposes solemnity, is the Cementerio de la Recoleta in Buenos Aires.

Then called the Cementerio del Norte, the Recoleto was opened in 1822 in what was then the orchard of a 17th-century convent built for the Order of Recoletos. One day after its opening, the first occupants arrived: a freed slave named Juan Benito, and a young woman named María Dolores Maciel. Today the labyrinthine corridors include some 5,000 tombs representing thousands of stories now ended. Among them, the great author, Adolfo Bioy Casares and legendary first lady, Eva Perón. But the stories of the unknown are equally powerful and often speak just as forcefully.

The charm of the Recoleta veers somewhere between that of beauty and abandonment. It’s a place of abandoned temples and shipwrecks. The majesty of the vaults and the time-worn idols only increases with the cracks in the wood of the coffins and plants that climb between the crucifixes and the candlesticks.

There’s something sacred in walking the Recoleta. It’s as if the magnificent crypts, opened just for an instant, tell stories that time has erased. But for that instant, they live as immortals. To cross this space is to enter a sad Hades. And this tells us a lot about the spectacular sensitivity of the 19th century and its closeness with death.

The silence of the dead speaks and vibrates in the quarried stones of this, Buenos Aires’ most important cemetery. Death passes through time before returning to oblivion and silence. Walking through the space, one hears those who’ve left in fleeting, powerful, and immortal song. Similar is the lament of the statue of the great king, Ozymandias (the protagonist in Shelley’s wonderful poem), and whose abandonment and forgetfulness in the middle of the cruel desert broke the symbol of his life into pieces:

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;

Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.

recoleta
 

recoleta-2
 

7907626868_f0eaad1324_k
recoleta-7 recoleta
 

*Images: 1, 2) Wikimedia Commons; 3, 4, 5) Wally Goetz – Flickr / Creative Commons

Cemeteries are portals between worlds. They’re places where lives which once were stand now discreetly before unrelenting time. A visit to an old cemetery, one with only unknown names and broken symbols, could only be a job for a true romantic poet. In the 19th century, Percy Bysshe Shelley called them “an open space among the ruins,” places capable of making us fall in love with death. Today, one of the most beautiful and powerful cemeteries, one that imposes solemnity, is the Cementerio de la Recoleta in Buenos Aires.

Then called the Cementerio del Norte, the Recoleto was opened in 1822 in what was then the orchard of a 17th-century convent built for the Order of Recoletos. One day after its opening, the first occupants arrived: a freed slave named Juan Benito, and a young woman named María Dolores Maciel. Today the labyrinthine corridors include some 5,000 tombs representing thousands of stories now ended. Among them, the great author, Adolfo Bioy Casares and legendary first lady, Eva Perón. But the stories of the unknown are equally powerful and often speak just as forcefully.

The charm of the Recoleta veers somewhere between that of beauty and abandonment. It’s a place of abandoned temples and shipwrecks. The majesty of the vaults and the time-worn idols only increases with the cracks in the wood of the coffins and plants that climb between the crucifixes and the candlesticks.

There’s something sacred in walking the Recoleta. It’s as if the magnificent crypts, opened just for an instant, tell stories that time has erased. But for that instant, they live as immortals. To cross this space is to enter a sad Hades. And this tells us a lot about the spectacular sensitivity of the 19th century and its closeness with death.

The silence of the dead speaks and vibrates in the quarried stones of this, Buenos Aires’ most important cemetery. Death passes through time before returning to oblivion and silence. Walking through the space, one hears those who’ve left in fleeting, powerful, and immortal song. Similar is the lament of the statue of the great king, Ozymandias (the protagonist in Shelley’s wonderful poem), and whose abandonment and forgetfulness in the middle of the cruel desert broke the symbol of his life into pieces:

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;

Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.

recoleta
 

recoleta-2
 

7907626868_f0eaad1324_k
recoleta-7 recoleta
 

*Images: 1, 2) Wikimedia Commons; 3, 4, 5) Wally Goetz – Flickr / Creative Commons