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Sunday, April 09, 2006

A bustling necropolis

La Recoleta Cemetery is a city of the dead, yet it is teeming with life. Feral four-legged felines wander the labyrinthine passages and sleep in, on or between the mausoleums—the final resting places of presidents, dictators, artists and rich merchants.

Perhaps the most-visited resident is Eva Peron. On any given day, the narrow pathway leading to the Duarte family plot is crowded with camera-carrying tourists. The mausoleum itself is relatively unassuming compared to some of the more extravagant tombs that can cost up to $5 million to construct.

Despite being dead, the people placed inside the tombs reveal their tastes and eccentricities. One mausoleum is a smaller version of the Notre Dame in Paris. One man is buried in a cement yacht. Another rich dead guy had his tomb modeled after the Lincoln Memorial, complete with a seated statue of himself.

During an unfortunate period in history, roving bands of skinheads damaged many of the statues and tombs. Through broken panes of glass, caskets are stacked on shelves just inches away. Photos and flowers sit on small altars underneath beautiful stained-glass windows.

While relatives of the deceased care for many of the mausoleums, others have fallen into disrepair. If the taxes aren’t paid, the mausoleums are reclaimed and sold to new families. There are a few currently for sale for a $250,000.

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