The death of Eva “Evita” Perón at just 33 years of age on July 26, 1952, set in motion a well-documented yet scarcely believable chain of events that would define her legacy and cement her status at the very heart of Argentina’s cultural history. It was up to the nation she had left behind to decide how best her memory could live on.
What you perhaps do not know, however, is that along with the various tributes to her life, work and philanthropy that exist today, another immense monument was planned to commemorate her passing.
Comprising a giant, ornate mausoleum beneath a statue of a worker — and towering taller than the Statue of Liberty (indeed an extraordinary 45 meters taller and almost the height of Notre Dame cathedral in Paris) — the base of the Monumento al Descamisado alone would have been the size of the entire Luna Park venue.
To put this into context, the current tallest statue in the world is the Spring Temple Buddha in China’s Henan Province, which stands at 153 meters. What is projected to be the largest statue in the world, India’s Statue of Unity, is still under construction. The 137-meter Monumento al Descamisado, then, would have made it the second tallest effigy on Earth.
The location chosen for the statue was a park on Avenida Figueroa Alcorta, between streets Tagle and Austria, where today you can find Televisión Pública Argentina’s studios. The ambitious plans for the structure included a great hall built in the Greco-Roman architectural style with marble walls and columns; a dome covered with gold and mosaics; and a grand basilica to house a 400-kilogram silver sarcophagus. The entire structure would have weighed 43,000 tons. It was only after the military coup of September 1955 that the plans were put to rest altogether.
The significance of the descamisado is plain to see: literally meaning “the shirtless,” the term was used to describe any worker. Evita had become the idol of the working class in part due to her humble origins, while the group made up a large part of her husband President Juan Perón’s support base. “The happiness of one descamisado is worth more than my entire life,” she said in a speech shortly after having been diagnosed with cancer.
Had it ever been built, Evita’s embalmed body was due to be displayed in the mausoleum below the monument. However, the corpse went on a secretive sojourn to Spain and back via Italy before eventually making its way back to Argentina. It likely spent time in Buenos Aires in less glamorous surroundings (in a van parked on the streets of the capital, behind a cinema screen and inside the city’s waterworks).
The plans for the Monumento al Descamisado having been scrapped, Evita’s body was once more destined for grandeur when, in 1974, the government of María Estela Martínez de Perón attempted to use the site to build another monolith, the Altar de la Patria. This time the building would also have housed the remains of Juan Perón (who died just a week before the law was passed allowing construction to begin), along with those of other Argentine foundational heroes, such as José de San Martín, Juan Manuel de Rosas, Hipólito Yrigoyen, Facundo Quiroga and Mamerto Esquiú. Although construction began, another coup d’état in March 1976 caused them to be abandoned, never to recommence.
So, will we ever see anything like the planned Monumento al Descamisado built in Buenos Aires?
First of all, the remains of Eva Perón have found a peaceful resting place (sort of, despite the endless tourists) in Recoleta Cemetery, so the need (and desire) to build her a tomb has long since gone. Secondly, a far smaller, 15-meter-high descamisado figure was erected in Avellaneda in 2013, although it would be fanciful to suggest that the real thing could one day punctuate the Porteño skyline as was once intended.