By Wallace Dias
Santos, Brazil, May 15 (EFE).- With artificial turf on the floor and photos of fans on the walls, the mausoleum in the Brazilian city of Santos containing the mortal remains of soccer great Pele on Monday opened its doors to the public.
The pilgrimage to visit the iconic Brazilian striker’s final resting place at the 14-story Memorial Necropole Ecumenica, considered to be the world’s tallest cemetery, began with an event attended by the soccer great’s son Edinho and several of his most diehard fans.
“We still feel a lot of sadness. We miss him a lot, but we also feel a lot of pride and happiness for all the affection and reverence that he’s been receiving,” said Edinho in remarks to reporters at the doors fo the mausoleum.
The three-time world champion rests in a hall that exudes soccer. At the entrance, two brass statues of a smiling Pele dressed in shorts greet the visitor.
In the dimly lit interior, the walls are covered with photos of fans, making the place seem like being in a stadium.
Artificial turf covers the floor and the three jerseys that changed forever Edson Arantes do Nascimento’s life are displayed: the ones for Santos, the Brazilian national soccer team and the New York Cosmos.
“It’s another memorable moment for our family and to make our king eternal … The place has been designed with a lot of affection and love. It’s noble, simple and very pleasant,” Edinho said.
In the center of the hall is Pele’s imposing tomb, fashioned of marble, with gold detailing and flanked by two columns made of mirrors. The vertical edges of the tomb are shaped like the World Cup trophy and on the lower portion are sculpted several moments from Pele’s sports career.
The lid of the sarcophagus glitters and bears a huge cross in relief with the soccer icon’s name, dates of birth (October 23, 1940) and death (December 29, 2022) on the lower part.
In the ceiling above the tomb is a rectangular and strongly illuminated opening resembling the sky – although it is not actually open to the heavens – and providing what appears to be direct access to Paradise.
“What was most emotional (was seeing) the photographs of fans because Pele never refused to pose for a photo. Even if it delayed him from catching a plane,” Cosmo Damiao Cid, one of the founders of the Torcida Jovem, a group of fans that has rooted for Santos since 1969, told EFE after spending a little time inside the mausoleum.
Cid said that he felt “very great” emotion upon entering the mausoleum for the first time.
“What a great tribute! He’s eternal. It seems like the people are embracing him. Any tribute for him is too little,” the 67-year-old fan said, adding that he was proud to have shared a few moments of his life with Pele by visiting his tomb.
The mausoleum will be open to visitors from 9 am to noon and from 2-6 pm.
To enter, it will be necessary first to register on the cemetery’s Web page (memorialsantos.com.br/rei), since only 30 people will be allowed inside during the morning and another 30 in the afternoon.
Inaugurated in 1991, the Memorial Necropole Ecumenica was conceived by Argentine businessman Pepe Altstut and is located about 700 meters (just under half a mile) from the Vila Belmiro Stadium, where Pele became a soccer legend playing for Santos.
Some two decades ago, the by-then-retired soccer icon acquired a funeral plot in the 14-story-high vertical cemetery, which set a Guinness World Record as the world’s tallest such necropolis and where Pele’s father Joao Ramos do Nascimento (“Dondinho”) and his brother Jair are also interred.
The Necropole rises almost 350 feet (108 meters) into the air and contains 14,000 burial vaults. Inside the metal and glass structure, which resembles an apartment building, there are crypts, rooms to hold services, a crematorium and a mausoleum “for families who want to preserve their legacy in a more personal and private way,” according to the Necropole’s Web site. EFE