Architecture People

Recoleta Cemetery Buenos Aires + Eva Perón + Liliana Crociati

To Die For

Buenos Aires is sometimes compared to Paris, a touch tenuously at times, but together they’ve had a similarly lucky escape. Le Corbusier planned to bulldoze both cities to create modernist utopias. Thankfully, his plans ended up in the dustbin. Instead of the French connection, we’d like to compare Buenos Aires to Savannah. Wait – there are plenty of things in common, honest. Well, ok, four. Firstly, splendid isolation of the geographical kind. One is encircled by Pampas; the other, swamps. Secondly, they’re both laid out like chessboards, streets intersecting at right angles to define square blocks between them. Thirdly, they both have a Pink House. Only Buenos Aires’ is called Casa Rosado. Fourthly, cemeteries top the tourist trail. Recoleta in BA, Bonaventure in SA. Cities of the dead. Theme parks of morbidity. Celebratory sepulchres. Legends written in stone. Recoleta Cemetery, like Buenos Aires, sprawls rather than soars: a linear visual feast of marble mausolea. A labyrinthic architectural encyclopaedia of ways to be buried. A necropolis within the metropolis. Drop dead gorgeous.

Once the orchard of the adjoining startlingly white Basílica Nuestra Señora del Pilar, the land was designated the city’s first public cemetery in 1822. Two women cry out from the immortalised myriad: one so famous she has a musical named after her; the other, a more intimate tale to tell. The understated yet much sought after tomb of Evita (Eva Perón née Duarte), mother of the nation. And that of the beloved daughter of Porteños, Liliana Crociati. She died in an avalanche on her honeymoon in Austria in 1970. Her parents reconstructed her bedroom in an art nouveau gothic grave. A bronze statue of Liliana in her wedding dress, with her beloved pet dog by her side, guards the entrance. Nostalgia as an art form. Evita’s darling poodle was called Canela. So brief a dream.


Evita Museum + Buenos Aires

The Newest Argentina

She’s the original icon, in every sense. It’s fitting that Museo Evita is in a gorgeous 1920s mansion that once housed her social foundation. An architectural requiem. Nostalgia in marble. Hypnotic melancholic melodrama, food to the spirit: that’s what we’re after and that’s what we get. Plus deep fried empanadas in the classy courtyard restaurant for the body reboot. You can’t overdress on the Orient Express and the same goes for a football pitch. At least in Eva Perón’s boots books. There’s a fabulous photo on display of the national heroine kicking a soccer ball – wearing killer heels. She wore haute couture and Caron perfume. Just seven years into her public life, Evita was dead, aged 33.

Later, it’s comfort eating in Perón Perón, Palermo Hollywood. On the hour every hour (ok, not quite, this is Argentina, so 20 past if you’re lucky) there’s a blast of foot stamping heart pounding table thumping rabble rousing regimental Justicalist music. “Perón! Perón!” A shrine to Evita forms the fulcrum of the restaurant. Menu puns are aplenty. Salads are “Light Perónism”. Main courses are dedicated to “True Comrades of Life”. Puddings are labelled “Where there is a need, there is a right”. And the menu ends “A cup of java for the President”. The oligarch filled spoon lanterned Fervor brasserie feels a million miles away.

“I confess that I have an ambition, one single, great personal ambition: I would like the name of ‘Evita’ to figure somewhere in the history of my country.” Mission accomplished. A vibrant painting of the most recent president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, hanging over the restaurant tables, is a reminder that Perónism lives on. But there’s only one Evita.