Thursday, January 6, 2011

Chacarita Cemetery Re-re-visited






Check out the entire collection of Chacarita Cemetery photographs.

Since first stumbling across the abandoned mausoleum over a year ago, Chacarita Cemetery has become a place I've taken people to visit more than anywhere else in Buenos Aires. Sure, when it comes to cemeteries Recoleta is the one that stands as the famed tourist destination here, however, given the choice I'd choose the former every time.

Chacarita Cemetery is 14 times as big as Recoleta Cemetery, and definitely more surreal. Covering 175 acres, it houses not only the remains of some of the who's who in Argentine history, but also the majority of the victims of the 1871 yellow fever epidemic. Similar to Recoleta Cemetery, Chacarita has a plenitude of grandiose, above-ground vaults, however, it is the rest the necropolis that sets it apart. There are thousands of traditionally marked graves covering the expansive walled in grounds. Where it really starts to get surreal though is if you stroll down into the three stories of underground, networked hallways. Like an campus library, each hallway is lined with hundreds of vaults from floor to ceiling. Intermittently amongst the hallways are open-air courtyards that let in the sun and the elements (see Google Map below). On warmer days, the dank concrete corridors give way to a penetrating smell of old death.

The freakiest part of the cemetery though, lies near the Northwest corner. Hidden behind a 20ft wall of outdoor vaults, sits an old abandoned mausoleum in disarray. Grave robbers, bone collectors and its general state of disrepair have made it off limits to visitors, somehow though we've always manage to sneak over and wonder amongst the splintered coffins and broken marble vault covers. The mausoleum is basically a giant birdhouse, and when you move in and around it, there is rarely a moment when your not scaring pigeons out from empty vaults or the buttresses above. The freakiest experience of my life was probably when my friend Nate and I first climbed down the stairs to the explore the lower level. It is lit only by the light that makes it though the small glassless windows at the ground level of the structure, and as evidenced by the volume of droppings, it is where most of the birds reside. Nearly every vault below is missing its marble door, although unlike above, the contents are scattered about everywhere. A year ago it was easy to find skulls, femurs, or whatever, scattered up and down the long dark hallway. During our recent visit though, it was much more difficult a task to find any kind of bones amongst the debris. This baffled me until I read about how the cemetery has become an increasingly popular source for medical students in the city to acquire bones for their studies.

If you are in Buenos Aires and haven't been to Chacarita Cemetery yet, I definitely recommend checking it out. Hours and information can be found online here. (map below)


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Currently Listening To:
Song: Song for the Dead (listen)
Artist: Sea Wolf (official website)