Lionel Messi, Jorge Luis Borges, Che Guevara and Diego Maradona…Argentina has produced plenty of global icons, but none more famous than Evita Peron. When you visit Buenos Aires, be sure to follow in her footsteps a little.
Evita is known the world over thanks to the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, Evita, and the Hollywood blockbuster of the same name starring Madonna. But she was actually a very real person who was in part responsible for the birth of Peronism, a controversial ideology which still dominates Argentina’s political landscape.
Evita grew up in the poorest part of a tiny village in rural Argentina, the illegitimate daughter of a wealthy landowner and a local peasant woman. When she was 15 she moved to Buenos Aires to pursue an acting career. What she lacked in talent, she made up for with her good looks and determination. She achieved great success as a radio actress, and had a string of increasingly important lovers.
In 1944 she met Juan Peron, an army colonel and government minister. A year later they married and in 1946 Peron was elected president of Argentina. Evita was a glamorous and well-dressed champion of the poor. She founded the Eva Peron Foundation and worked tirelessly with the sick and disenfranchised, often working 20 hour days and seldom taking weekends off. She was also largely responsible for women gaining the vote in Argentina, and when Law 13,010 was passed by the House of Representatives on 9 September 1947, the original document was officially presented to Evita for safekeeping.
In 1950 Evita fainted at a public event, and was subsequently diagnosed with cervical cancer. Juan Peron enlisted the best medical help available and Evita was the first Argentine to undergo chemotherapy – ultimately to no avail. Although she was persuaded by public sentiment to run for vice-president in the 1952 general elections, her cancer battle forced her to withdraw. Soon after Juan Peron was inaugurated for his second term, Evita died, weighing only 79lb.
Evita’s body was embalmed by the somewhat controversial Dr Pedro Ara. She was afforded a state funeral (usually reserved for heads of state) and it was decreed that her body would be permanently displayed in a custom built monument. Before the monument was completed, however, Peron’s government was overthrown by a military coup and the Juan hastily fled the country without making arrangements for Evita’s body. The body vanished and only reappeared 16 years later in a Milanese cemetery. Peron had it delivered to his home (he was in exile in Spain at the time) where it lay for a time in his dining room.
In 1973, once the era of military juntas had come to an end, Peron returned to Argentina and was elected president for a third presidential term. He died soon after taking power and his third wife Isabel succeeded him. Isabel was responsible for repatriating Evita’s body and bringing it to its final resting place.
Evita’s tomb in the family mausoleum in the famous
in Buenos Aires: is definitely worth checking out when you’re next in town.
Another definite must-see is the
, which is housed in a glamorous colonial building and features fresh, modern displays.
was the site of many of Evita’s most famous public appearances.
Evita’s career may have been brief, but her memory still captivates and divides a nation. Peronism remains the dominant force in Argentine politics, and while it claims to champion the proletariat, many detractors have likened it to fascism. Whatever your views on Peronism, there is no denying that Evita is one of Argentina’s greatest icons, and no visit to Buenos Aires is complete without delving a little into her life.