Late soccer star Pelé buried in stadium-style mausoleum

End Goal

Late soccer star Pelé buried in stadium-style mausoleum

Soccer legend Pelé is buried at the Memorial Necrópole Ecumênica in Santos, Brazil. (Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain)

One of the greatest soccer players of all time is kicking around in the afterlife in a mini stadium complete with artificial turf.

Edson Arantes do Nascimento—better known as Pelé—bought his 2,150-square-foot burial area almost two decades ago at the Memorial Ecumenical Cemetery, a 14-story burial ground in Santos, Brazil that the Guinness Book of World Records deemed the world’s tallest. The King of Football died on December 29 from complications of colon cancer. He was 82.

Pelé played for most of his career in Santos, a coastal city of 434,000 about 40 miles southeast of São Paulo. In light of his connections to the city and the sport, his embalmed body will lie in the middle of a turf field surrounded by gilded statues that memorialize his greatest moments, according to The Guardian.

The cemetery is a half-mile walk to Vila Belmiro, the stadium where 15-year-old Pelé started his career and played for 18 years. As soccer fans know, Pelé went on to score 1,281 career goals and win three World Cups, the only soccer player in history to do so.

Besides its unusual mausoleums, the Memorial Ecumenical Cemetery also contains a chapel, wake rooms, cineraries, ossuaries, and a decorative pond, pretty standard features for a fancy interment site. In addition to these amenities, the complex hosts an aviary, a 24-hour restaurant, and a car and motorcycle museum that includes a 1974 Mercedez Benz 280-S given to Pelé in celebration of his thousandth goal.

The Ecumenical Necropolis Memorial was completed by Argentine businessman Pepé Altstut in 1991 to solve a particular problem at the intersection of geology and death. In Santos, in-ground burials were contaminating groundwater, so the vertical cemetery lifted bodies above ground avoiding pollution. While the bodies and bones and ashes are in a resort-like, climate-controlled building with 18,000 interment spaces, 90 percent of the 430,000-square-foot grounds are covered in native forests. In 2014 the short film A Tomb With A View (linked above) Altstut profiled and detailed the ideas behind the novel cemetery.

Pelé chose to be buried at the cemetery in part because he and Altstut were friends.

A funeral procession in Santos and a private burial took place on January 3, and there will be visitation hours for a few days post-ceremony. Prior to the burial, the family held a 24-hour public wake where fans, including newly inaugurated President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, waited for hours to say final goodbyes to the soccer hero.