Things to See in Buenos Aires
CITY OF ANGELS: Recoleta Cemetery.
The French-style chateau, Casa de los Leones (the Lion House), its gables silhouetted against the bleached sky.
Acquired in 1880 by Eustaquio Diaz Velez, a millionaire who loved lions and raised them in his garden, Casa de los Leones is one of Buenos Aires Buenos Aires’s most intriguing properties. According to legend, one of the animals attacked and killed his daughter’s fiance on the day of her engagement party. The girl was so overcome with grief she killed herself.
Hot-blooded Buenos Aires, famous for sultry dances and steamy nights, also has a chilling side and many have a ghost story to tell. Unlike other historic cities, Buenos Aires doesn’t make ghost tours a big deal. Rather than something for quacks to make a quick peso out of, the stories are part of the city’s fabric – it’s up to the visitor to do the unravelling.
Here are five of the best.
1. Recoleta Cemetery (Cementerio de la Recoleta)
The cemetery is a city of the dead in which 6400 vaulted tombs occupy the most expensive real estate in town. Spread over five hectares in a grid-like pattern of stately boulevards and elegant avenues, the mausoleums look like miniature mansions, the final resting place of presidents, poets and painters alike.
Eva Duarte de Peron (Evita) might be its most famous “resident” but Rufina Cambaceres (the girl who died twice) is the most disturbing.
Rufina was thought to be dead after suffering an epileptic fit and was entombed in 1902, on her 19th birthday. Tragically, she awoke inside the casket and clawed her fingers to the bone scratching her way out but died of a heart attack before making it to the front gates of the cemetery.
Rufina’s family built a new tomb with a vault that has a sculpture of the pretty young woman holding the doorknob as if trying to get out. I dare you to look at Rufina’s sad face without getting the goosebumps.
Getting there Calle Junin 1790; a 30-minute walk or a short cab ride from the city centre. The cemetery is open from 8am to 6pm daily, free guided tours in English take place on Tuesday and Thursday at 11am.
2. The Tunnels of the Manzana de las Luces (Los tuneles de la Manzana de las Luces)
The barrio of Montserrat is home to the Manzana de las Luces (Square of Enlightenment), BA’s historic centre for learning and high culture, and seems an unlikely setting for any serious Dan Brown-style action. Well stocked with culture vultures and academics, the area has quietly gone about the business of educating the children of distinguished families for four centuries. But like the fabled Illuminati, it guards its secrets well.
Ad Feedback Hidden beneath is a cobweb of tunnels, a virtual underground city, that dates to the Jesuit days of the 17th century.
Speculation about the original purpose of the dark, dank tunnels remains: torture chambers, secret passages linking the Jesuit headquarters to churches, or defence tunnels in case of attack? The tour leads visitors from the Courtyard of the Jesuit Missions, through the House of Representatives and Presidency of Legislature and, finally, six metres into the tunnels.
Getting there Peru 272, Plaza de Mayo; an easy 10-minute walk from the city centre. Spanish-language tours are held daily for 10 pesos. English-language tours can be arranged on request. www.manzanadelasluces.gov.ar.
3. Museum of Hispano-American Art (Museo de Arte Hispanoamericano Isaac Fernandez Blanco)
A museum where the ghosts of “disoriented Englishmen wander around aimlessly” should be at the top of any visitor’s list. The Museum of Hispano-American Art, famous for its collection of Potosi silverware and Peruvian decorative art, is housed in a mansion built in neo-colonial Peruvian style in 1921.
Belying its grace and charm, the manor was built over a site where English dissidents were buried and where slaves were housed in the 17th century.
Getting there Suipacha 1400, Retiro; a 10-minute walk from the city centre. Open Tuesday to Sunday from 2pm to 7pm, cost, three pesos. www.museofernandezblanco.buenos aires.gob.ar.
4. Santa Felicitas Church (Iglesia de Santa Felicitas)
This tragic tale of star-crossed lovers is as old as time itself. In 1872, one of the richest and most beautiful women in Buenos Aires, Felicitas Guerrero de Alzaga, was being courted by two men; a well-known dandy, Enrique Ocampo, and a rugged rancher, Saenz Valiente.
She chose brawn over brain causing the dandy to fly into a jealous rage, shooting her twice before stabbing himself in the heart. Felicitas’s heartbroken parents had an enormous, Gothic church built in her memory, the only church in Buenos Aires not dedicated to a saint or religious figure. Its doors opened to worshippers on January 30, 1876, the fourth anniversary of Felicitas’s death.
According to some, her ghost wanders the grounds, often seen wiping tears from her eyes. A tradition has developed in which women come to the church on January 30, tie a hanky to the gate and ask for help finding their own true love.
Getting there Isabel la Catolica 520, Barracas; a 20-minute taxi ride from the city centre. Open on Saturday and Sunday, with free guided tours every Sunday at 11am. www.santafelicitas.org.ar.
5. The Lions House (Casa de los Leones)
It’s said that after the double tragedy (lion mauling and suicide), ghosts of the couple began to appear, whispering, shouting, crying and making a nuisance of themselves. By way of exorcism, Eustaquio Diaz Velez replaced the real lions with sculptures on the arches of the entrance gates, doorknockers and throughout the park.
Today, the mansion is home to the Vitra Foundation, a rehabilitation centre for people with severe breathing problems.
Getting there Montes de Oca 140, Barracas. As it’s around the corner from Santa Felicitas Church, one taxi trip can take in both sites. The Lions House is now a private hospital and you’ll need permission to enter the grounds. www.fundacionvitra.org.ar.
Three other things to get your heart racing
1 Attend a tango show If you are looking for one of the hottest, best-choreographed shows in town, head to Esquina Carlos Gardel. This 1940s-style club offers an elegant atmosphere, superb cuisine and service. The general seating can be crowded and noisy, so lash out on an executive booth. www.esquinacarlosgardel.com.ar.
2 Drop in to La Boca. The bohemian barrio at the southern end of downtown is famous for its painted buildings, street tango and weekend craft market. It is also home to the Boca Juniors soccer club, one of the biggest in Argentina and one of the clubs that superstar Diego Maradona played for. www.agrupacion nuevoboca.com.ar.
3 Visit the Obelisk Buenos Aires’s most prominent (and phallic) landmark was dedicated in 1936 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the first Spanish settlement. Legend says that on dark, stormy nights, the screams of a worker who died during the Obelisk’s construction can be heard. It’s in the Plaza de la Republica at the intersection of Ave 9 de Julio and Corrientes.
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