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Most people who find themselves in the neighborhood of Recoleta are standing before the Recoleta Cemetary. This high-walled complex was begun by the Franciscan Recollect Fathers, who lived in the adjacent Friary of El Pilar. Visiting the cemetery is akin to a walk through Argentine history, with some of the most important figures having tombs in this place. See, for instance, Eva Peron’s tomb, plastered with emotional bronze epitaphs, while down a row there lie most of Argentina ’s presidents. These evoke the many street names in Buenos Aires : Alvear, Hipolito Yrigoyen, Saavedra, Sarmiento… A number of famous poets and artists are also here.
The Cemetery entrance looks out on a gorgeous park space that sets off a chain of greenery that goes out towards Palermo . Here it is possible to enjoy a market on Sundays—a somewhat upscale version of the one in San Telmo, where the artisans are vetted before being given a booth. At other times of the week it is a great spot to enjoy a meal, a drink, or just to have a rest and catch some sun.
Following the park spaces as they boot leg around the cemetery shows the way to a number of interesting sites. It is said that Recoleta features more outdoor statues than any other city in the world. True or not, enjoy the many in the area around the National Museum of Fine Art, and consider making a series of photos featuring them. The museum itself is a great way to explore Buenos Aires ’ ‘ Old World ’ connection. Including many masterpieces from Europe as well as Argentina , this relatively small museum with free entry is an excellent place to spend an hour or two. Behind the museum, over a foot bridge, is the former Argentine Supreme Court, and the present home of the University’s Law Faculty. Next to this, Recoleta’s statue series comes to its climax with the Steel Flower. Designed and gifted to the city by one of her favored sons, architect Eduardo Catalano, this massive metallic structure opens its petals and follows the course of the sun during the day.
Heading the other way from the cemetery, one enters the barrio proper. Buenos Aires’ ‘Paris’ connection was no doubt born here—the petit hotels architecture, the street planning with its frequent small squares adorned by a café on nearly every corner—all comes together to create a very agreeable, upscale atmosphere. That is not a coincidence. Recoleta became heavily populated by Buenos Aires ’ rich and powerful as early as 1871, on the heels of several epidemics in the lower and wetter parts of town. What is left of their once grand houses and palaces are now mostly hotels or museums, but Recoleta is still the address for much of the country’s old money, and anyone who is anyone will have lived here at one time. A walk up Alvear street will include all of the best European designers and other boutique shops along the lines of London ’s Mayfair .
For the traveler, one of Recoleta’s best endowments are its bookstores. The most visited because it is grandest of these is El Ateneo. Located on Avenida Santa Fe, it was once a theatre called the Gran Splendid. Now, one enters to find rows and rows of bookshelves where there were once theatre seats. The boxes have been converted into reading nooks, the stage an excellent café with piano music. Above all is the theatre’s mural. The atmosphere alone makes the place worthy of a visit. Close on its heels is a café stroke bar stroke bookshop called Clasica y Moderna. This atmospheric place, with its dark wood, is another place to enjoy the Recoleta feel. On the weekend, make efforts to come in the evening to join the locals for a live music show.
That said, time spent in any area of Recoleta is bound to be atmospheric and memorable. Make the most of your time here, and keep a look out for some of Argentina ’s elite as they too enjoy the ‘ Paris of the South.’