The Recoleta Cemetery
Like London’s Highgate and Pere Lachaise of Paris, the Recoleta has its fair share of notable inhabitants, including national leaders, military heroes, Nobel Prize winners and important writers. With one major exception, however, most of these names are only vaguely recognizable to people outside Latin America. International visitors on Argentina tours come here mostly for the architecture.
The stately Recoleta began as a modest graveyard. It was proposed by Torcuato de Alvear, Buenos Aires’ first Intendant, who, like his father, General Carlos de Alvear, is buried here along with his son, Marcelo Torcuato de Alvear, who served as president of Argentina from 1922 to 1928. Photographers on Argentina tours will appreciate the endless variety of the cemetery's monumental structures that today house the country's wealthiest citizens.
Among the other Argentine presidents buried in the Recoleta are long-time leader, Hpolito Yrigoyen, and writer/president, Domingo Sarmiento. Here too is the ruthless dictator, Juan Manuel de Rosas, who began his career as a cattle rancher and became a national hero for ousting European forces with the help of the gauchos. He ruled Argentina off and on from 1829 to 1852 until he was overthrown and spent his final years in exile as a farmer on the English coast.
His Southampton burial site was destroyed during World War II. Some years later, his remains were returned to Buenos Aires, though it is unknown whether it was de Rosas who ended up buried in the Recoleta or the livestock grazing nearby at the time of the bombing.
Argentine heavy-weight fighter, Luis Firpo, is here. American boxing fans remember “the Wild Bull of the Pampas,” less for his wins than for a famous loss to Jack Dempsey when the Argentine challenged Dempsey for the heavyweight title in 1923.
If you visit this cemetery during your travel to Argentina, you're likely find your way to its most famous citizen, the actress-turned-first-lady to President Juan Peron, Eva Duarte. Known affectionately as Evita, she rests in an art deco style tomb with a bronze door and an eternal light, much-visited on Argentina tours. As in most cemeteries, it can be challenging to locate a particular gravesite in the Recoleta, but in the case of Evita, most guidebooks offer easy-to-follow directions to the Duarte family tomb. You will not find her adoring husband at her side. To visit Juan’s gravesite on your Argentina tours, you’ll have to go across town to the Chacarita Cemetery where he is laid to rest in the Peron family tomb under his father’s name, Tomas. Plans call for the president's remains to be moved to a specially-built mausoleum.
Las Madres de Plaza de Mayo
The young adult sons and daughters of these women vanished during the dark period of Argentina’s modern history, commonly called the Dirty War (La Guerra Sucia), waged under the dictatorship of General Jorge Rafael Videla who assumed power in a 1976 coup. The junta displaced the fragile government of Isabela Peron who as vice president had succeeded her husband, Juan, on his death in 1973, a few months into his third presidential term. In the guise of reform, the new government’s crack down began immediately. Thousands of citizens were tortured, imprisoned or exiled and up to 30,000 killed, their bodies never found. Among the desaparecidos ("disappeared") were subversives, sympathizers and many with no involvement in any political activity.
The refusal of Las Madres to back down, their courage in plain sight of La Casa Rosada, the vividly pink presidential palace, eventually emboldened others to make their political dissent heard, until the government itself toppled. Argentina has never been the same.
As happens over time among human rights organizations, issues evolve that once united. In 1986, the more radical members of Las Madres split off, forming the Asociacion Madres de Plaza de Mayo, to carry forward the political agenda of their children. The core group, called the Linea Fundadora (Founding Line) kept to their original goal of locating the remains of their children and punishing those responsible. Though the military admits to killing 9,000 civilians, until there is a full accounting of the missing, the work of the Madres will not be done, and the weekly marches will continue. If you time your Argentina tours just right, you may see the mothers march.
Another group, the Asociacion Civil Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo, seeks the whereabouts of their grandchildren. Their cause is to identify the offspring of the disappeared, those taken during their parents' abduction or born during captivity, so they may be returned to their birth families. Some of these children were adopted by wealthy Argentine families who did not know or chose not to know their origins, a subject depicted in the powerful Argentine film, “The Official Story” that won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 1986. The grandmothers’ work spawned the National Genetic Data Bank and was recognized by the United Nations for its humanitarian efforts in 2003.
Southern Explorations' Four Balconies Tour Extension includes La Plaza de Mayo as one of the sights on its Argentina tours. On a self-guided walking tour, you may reach the plaza by subway. The plaza is within walking distance of Buenos Aires’ oldest café, the atmospheric ever-popular Café Tortoni, a favorite stop on many Argentina tours. If you arrive at the plaza on a Thursday afternoon during your Argentina tours, you may meet Las Madres and buy T-shirts and other items that support their efforts. To learn more about the organization as you make your plans to travel to Argentina, go to www.madres.org.
El Teatro Colon
Opera buffs on Argentina tours will be interested to know that Buenos Aires' operatic traditions date back to the late 18th century, long before the Teatro Colon became the premier venue for opera in South America. Neither is the Teatro Colon the capital's first opera house. The original Teatro opened in 1857 across the street from La Plaza de Mayo. The site was sold after thirty years of operation to the National Bank of Argentina to fund its more lavish successor.
The Teatro Colon took twenty years to construct and several architects, one style building upon another. The house opened in 1908 with a production of Verdi´s Aida, the already popular war horse filled with melodious arias, rousing choruses and a grand triumphal march, complete with live animals. A popular kick-off production for new venues, Aida was originally commissioned for the 1871 opening of Cairo's Grand Opera House and the Suez Canal.
From the start, the Teatro Colon attracted the top names in opera. Such luminaries, past and present, as Enrico Caruso, Maria Callas, Kirsten Flagstad and Luciano Pavarotti have graced the stage of the Teatro Colon under the baton of such legendary conductors as Wilhelm Furtwangler and Karl Bohm.
Many composers have conducted their own works at the Teatro Colon including Richard Strauss, Ottorino Respighi, Igor Stravinski and the Spanish composer, Manuel de Falla. Wagner's complete Ring Cycle was presented in 1922 and again in 1967. Sir Thomas Beecham conducted productions of Carmen, Fidelio and Otello for the 50th anniversary celebration of the house. Nijinski, Nureyev, Pavlova and Fonteyn, among other stars of the ballet world, have all danced here.
Visitors will need to schedule their Argentina tours between March and December to see an opera performance at the Teatro Colon. The venue is home to Argentina's national symphony orchestra and national ballet company. New works are encouraged through the Centro de Experimentacion de Teatro Colon, established in 1990. Various other musical and theatrical events are also presented, keeping the stage busy year-round, so there is always something to see here when you travel to Argentina. The building also houses a professional music school and music library.
At the end of the 2006 opera season, the Teatro Colon closed for what was supposed to be a two-year renovation. It was scheduled to re-open in the spring of 2008 to commemorate its centenary season, but 2008 came and went. With refurbished seats, replicating the comfort of the venue’s original décor, and additional room for both seated and standing audience, the Teatro Colon finally re-opened in 2010, coinciding with Argentina’s bicentenary celebration of the country’s independence from Spanish rule. Enjoying opera at the Teatro Colon can be pricey, especially if you wait until arriving in town on your Argentina tours to purchase tickets.
The Teatro Colon is located in central Buenos Aires opposite the Plaza Lavalle on Libertad not far from the Obelisk. Daily tours scheduled in English and Spanish will resume when the opera house re-opens. These Argentina tours are popular, so reservations are recommended. For more details on visiting the Teatro Colon when you travel to Argentina, go to www.teatrocolon.org.