Buenos Aires Museums: Museo Evita

Eva Duarte Peron was quite a gal. And if all you know about her is Madonna’s portrayal in the film version of the musical Evita, then a visit to the Museo Evita in Buenos Aires’ posh Palermo neighborhood is definitely in order.

A minor radio and film actress of humble origins in the 1930s, Evita (she was almost universally known by this diminutive to her many supporters and admirers) showed an early aptitude for politics when she became head of the actors’ union. But it was her meeting with Juan Peron, a military officer and up and coming government official, that ignited the spark that brought her unparalleled political power at home and an international reputation.

Apparently, the two fell for each other in a big way and, as far as I can tell, their love was genuine and deep. Peron went on to become one of Argentina’s most powerful and controversial leaders and Evita, who never held public office, became one of the most charismatic figures in history.

Her special affinity was for the poor, the descamidados or shirtless ones, and she used her charm and her not inconsiderable powers of persuasion to launch a movement for social justice that convinced many people that she should be canonized as a saint.

Peronism, as it came to be known, was a populist movement that blended Christian charity and strong arm tactics in a heady brew. Thousands of peasants were lifted out of the direst poverty, the rights of workers were enshrined and protected, and political opponents were imprisoned and tortured. To this day, Juan and Evita Peron remain among the most polarizing figures in Argentina and the wider world, loved by some, reviled by others.

The Museo Evita is peronist to its core and yet it is decidedly restrained in telling the story of her too-short life (she died of uterine cancer at the age of 33). You will not emerge from a visit here feeling hideously propagandized or banged over the head with a political message.

The museum occupies a 1909 mansion once used by Evita’s Foundation for Social Aid as a home for unwed mothers, yet another reason for the vitriolic hatred she inspired among the rich.

Using photos, household objects, and a large collection of Evita’s wardrobe, the museum tells the story of her life in chronological order. Especially interesting are the films, which document the amazing adulation she and Peron inspired. When she died Buenos Aires was emptied of flowers as tributes piled up at her funeral.

The tour ends on a macabre note. Her body had been elaborately embalmed and the intention was to display it in perpetuity, much like Lenin’s corpse in Red Square. But Peron’s opponents stole the body and its location was unknown for many years. Finally, it was returned to the family, slashed and desecrated in a variety of ways. It’s all documented in a film that may not be for the squeamish.

Museo Evita
Lafinur 2988

Open Tuesday to Sunday, 11am – 7pm
Admission 15 pesos
Guided tours available