The Cementerio de la Chacarita over towards Villa Crespo is not just the largest cemetery in Argentina at 230 acres, but perhaps the most beautiful, certainly much larger and definitely greener than aristocratic Recoleta Cemetery, with no looming apartment blocks peeking over the walls. Chacarita is lush with mature trees and features wide cobbled streets set to an almost town-like plan, so orderly that you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re in a very well-to-do barrio of BA and not a sprawling cemetery far from the tourist gaze. This place is so vast there’s actually traffic – sedate at 15 kph.
The mausoleums, pantheons and tombs here are perhaps even grander and more exotic than over in Recoleta, with some the size of small churches or even a palatial folly or colosseum or two, many redolent of decay and neglect, but oh so charming and definitely intriguing. There are some particularly grand buildings including a pantheon housing the French Philanthropic Society, the Spanish-Argentine Mutual Society pantheon and even a pantheon for emigrants from Galicia.
Chacarita contains many of Buenos Aires’ most notable figures across politics, sporting giants, movie stars, heart-throbs, artists and literary and scientific notaries and of course, Carlos Gardel with his dedicated corner strewn with fading flowers and the occasional lit cigarette in his worn bronzed hand. I reckon you could spend days here exploring not just the ‘downtown’ streets with their impressive collection of architectural gems but the far-flung reaches of this necropolis, where I’m sure other delights and surprises await. Next time!
Over towards the middle section of Chacarita lies what at first glance looks like an Aztec ruin, low-built geometrically carved stone (turns out to be reinforced concrete) structures that beckon you forward. As you approach there are wide steps down into a vast subterranean labyrinth of walled vaults that look for all the world like school lockers or macabre filing cabinets. These floor to ceiling vaults, five high with wide double rows to stroll through, must house many thousands of dear-departed souls.
It’s an underground city of the dead, attended to by an army of workers, some perched precariously on wooden ladders preparing open vaults for a new arrival, whilst others wrestle with low-slung metal trolleys in readiness for a coffin about to emerge from the narrow, coffin-sized floor-thru lift. It’s quietly industrial and very, very quiet.
The beautifully worn polished terrazzo floors give an uneven, almost wet-look to the labyrinth whilst the endless personally inscribed vaults, studded with fading blooms stretch into the forever. The space is cool, often dark and alarmingly musty down here, yet open to the fresh air and the lush greenery that totally encloses what I imagine to be a fine example of 1960’s brutalist faux Aztec architecture. Love it!