The Cementerio de Los Ilustres in downtown San Salvador is the final resting place for many of El Salvador’s political and cultural elite. A large, peaceful area near the bustling El Centro, the cemetery houses hundreds of white marble tombs, fading memorials, and forlorn statues. Despite being well guarded and staffed, the site is relatively unknown, and we had the place to ourselves for our entire visit.
The cemetery, created in 1849, houses over 400 graves ranging from small, simple headstones to elaborate tombs with spacious interiors and stained glass windows. One of those which stands out is the statue of Luperca, the mythical wolf who suckled Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome. Other graves feature objects reflecting their owners’ interests, such as that of Italian pilot and aviation pioneer Enrico Massi, which includes a large model aircraft.
Prominent figures buried here include several former presidents – Francisco Morazan (president of the Federal Republic of Central America 1830 – 1839), Gerardo Barrios (President of El Salvador 1813 – 1865), and Manuel Enrique Araujo (President of El Salvador 1911 – 1913). Jorge Handal Shafik Handal (leader of the FMLN during the civil war, later a member of the Legislative Assembly, and 2004 presidential candidate) is also buried here.
Not all those remembered are politicians – the cemetery is also the final resting place of composer Agustin Barrios, the poets Alfredo Espino and Claudia Lars, and dancer Morena Celarié.
Also in the cemetery is the grave of the notorious Roberto d’Aubuisson, founder of El Salvador’s ARENA party and former major in the Salvadorean army. D’Aubuisson is infamous for his involvement in the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero, and as a leader of death squads during El Salvador’s civil war, during which he personally tortured and killed political prisoners.
The Cementerio de Los Ilustres is not in the safest part of San Salvador, but the cemetery itself is guarded and there is a small amount of secure parking available within the grounds. Although the area around has a bad reputation, I would not let this put you off visiting this unique site during the day, provided you are careful. Politur, El Salvador’s tourist police, also arrange regular guided tours to the cemetery at night. There are also a couple of Salvadorean tour companies who can arrange visits for you – I haven’t linked to them here because I haven’t used them personally.
Overall the cemetery is a little-known but interesting place which offers poignant insight into El Salvador’s history.