Exploring historic cemeteries is a great way to understand a little bit of the culture and background of a city. Latin America has many beautiful and historic cemeteries with avenues of majestic mausoleums as well as peaceful churchyards. Take a stroll through some of these cities of the dead with travel bloggers who contributed their thoughts on Latin America’s historic cemeteries.
CEMENTERIO COLON, HAVANA, CUBA
Surprisingly, Cementerio Cristobal Colon, named after the explorer, has managed to avoid the crumbling appearance of the structures in the surrounding Havana. This historic cemetery is known for its many elaborate mausoleums. When visiting the well-tended avenues lined with sparkling white mausoleums, the first words that come to mind are elegant and graceful. Colon was first established in 1876. A cholera epidemic forced the local population to build a larger necropolis over the already existing Espada Cemetery. Up until then, most people were buried in churchyards following the European custom.
Notable interments include heroes of Cuba’s past as well as world chess champion, Jose de Capablanca and Dr. Carlos Juan Finlay, the epidemiologist who determined that yellow fever was transmitted by mosquitos.
LA RECOLETA, BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA
Don’t cry for me Argentina. These are the words sung by the character, Eva Peron, in the very successful Broadway play, EVITA! Eva Maria Duarte de Peron was an illegitimate child born in an Argentine backwater. At 15 she left for the big city to pursue an acting career. Shortly thereafter she met and married Juan Peron who would go on to become president of Argentina. Evita herself became very popular with the workers of Argentina electrifying audiences with her fiery speeches from the balcony of The Pink House, the executive mansion and office of the President of Argentina. Many Argentines revered her, granting her an almost goddess status. At 33 she died of cancer. She is buried here in La Recoleta, arguably the most beautiful cemetery of Latin America.
To learn more about Evita click here.
Want to know more about the exciting and cosmopolitan city of Buenos Aires? Click here.
CEMENTERIO LA REINA, CIENFUEGOS, CUBA
La Reina has some of the most beautiful statuary I have ever seen in any cemetery. Opened in 1839 and declared a national monument in 1990, this historic cemetery is a must-see in Cienfuegos, Cuba. Cienfuegos is a city in central Cuba founded by French citizens from Bordeaux and Louisiana. It is interesting to read the names on the graves and see the strong French influence.
There is a caretaker at the front gate who will be happy to tell you the history of the cemetery as well as the legends surrounding some monuments. The legend of Sleeping Beauty is that of a young woman who died of cholera early in her marriage. Her husband, consumed with grief refused to leave her gravesite and languished there until he too passed away.
The caretaker is necessary because practitioners of the local religion sometimes disinter and steal bones necessary for their religious rituals.
CEMENTERIO MUNICIPAL SARA BRAUN, PUNTA ARENAS, CHILE
South America is full of unlikely contradictions. A refined, elegant, beautifully landscaped cemetery lined with spectacular mausoleums in the middle of the remote Chilean Patagonia is one of these contradictions. Punta Arenas, Chile, was once a frontier town; Chile’s equivalent of the wild, wild west, or in Chile’s case, the wild south. The city was a natural and mandatory stopping point for every ship rounding the southern tip of South America. It grew rich catering to the traffic on its way to or from the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. After the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914, the route became unnecessary and the town’s fortunes declined. But the splendor and opulence of the era remained reflected in the final resting places of the city’s notables.
This historic cemetery is named after Sara Braun, the richest woman in Patagonia at the time, who donated the land. Ms. Braun had arrived in Chile from Latvia at the age of 15. She requested that after her death no one should pass through the front gates of the cemetery. Since her death, the front gate has been sealed and people enter through the side gate.
The Punta Arenas cemetery is an open history book of the city’s demographics. Reading the names on the tombstones you see the waves of immigrants to the area; The Balkans, Croatia, Russia, Spain, Italy and more.
CEMENTERIO SANTA EFIGENIA, SANTIAGO DE CUBA, CUBA
Stroll the marble walkways of the Cementerio Santa Efigenia, the final resting place of many of Cuba’s notables. This cemetery boasts many interesting features. It is the final resting place of Cuba’s first presidents; Tomas Estrada Palma and Carlos Manuel de Cespedes. It is also here that poet, statesman and father-of-the-country, Jose Marti, rests in a simple and elegant tomb. One of his poems requested that he be buried with his face to the sun. Here he rests…his final wishes respected. His coffin is positioned in a way that, as long as it is daylight, a ray of sun will fall upon it.
In December 2016 Fidel Castro’s ashes were interred in Santa Efigenia.
Every hour there is an impressive changing of the guard with the soldiers goose-stepping on the broad marble avenues among the blindingly white mausoleums.
Talek blogs at Travels With Talek
SUCRE GENERAL CEMETERY, BOLIVIA
The Museo de las Momias houses exactly what the name implies; mummies! The story begins, sadly, with an outbreak of cholera in 1833 which resulted in the Saint Paola Cemetery becoming full some 30 years later. A tax was then put in place, in an attempt to free up space, which was charged to keep bodies buried here. If family members couldn’t or wouldn’t pay the tax, the bodies would be exhumed and placed in storage next door. It was at this time that it became apparent that something in the soil composition had naturally mummified the bodies of these poor souls.
After years of storing these mummies some enterprising locals deciding to start charging for viewing. This eventually led to a fully legit mummy museum which today sees more than 4,000 visitors per week. The Mexican people see this gory display as part of their history and do not view death in the same way some other cultures do. Therefore you may even see young school kids here on a field trip. However, the incredibly intact remains, some of which seem to be screaming or in agonizing pain, are not for the faint of heart. You have been warned!
Sara blogs at Live Dream Discover
You can learn more about the fascinating mummies here.
Visiting the great historic cemeteries on Latin America will provide you with a history lesson of the country’s art, culture, and soul.
Like historical cemeteries? Try these United States cemeteries.
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