It is a final resting place fit for “The King”: six months after the death of the man widely considered the greatest footballer of all time, Brazil opened Pele’s gilded, football-turfed tomb to the public Monday.
Pele, who died on December 29 at age 82 after a battle with cancer, was laid to rest at the Ecumenical Memorial Cemetery in Santos, Brazil. It is a high-rise, 14-story mausoleum that holds the Guinness world record for the tallest cemetery on Earth.
Fans were greeted by two life-size golden statues of the player nicknamed “O Rei” – The King – whose remains rest inside a large golden vault displayed in the middle of a 200-square-meter (more than 2,000-square-foot) room carpeted in artificial turf.
“It surpassed my expectations. It’s a really beautiful place,” said Ronaldo Rodrigues, 44, a businessman who was first in line to visit the tomb, along with his wife.
“I hope lots of tourists will come visit and get to know a little about Pele’s story, what he represented for Santos, Brazil and the entire world.”
Born Edson Arantes do Nascimento, Pele is the only player in history to win three World Cups (1958, 1962 and 1970).
He scored a world record 1,281 goals during his more than two-decade career with Santos (1956-74), the New York Cosmos (1975-77) and the Brazilian national team.
In tears, Pele’s son Edinho told reporters who flocked to the southeastern port city that the family was still struggling to cope with their loss.
“But we’re also very proud and happy at all the affection and reverence that’s kept pouring in,” he said.
For now, entries to the tomb are limited to 60 people a day, via a sign-up form on the cemetery’s website.
Topped with a cross, Pele’s golden vault has black etchings on its sides depicting his 1,000th goal and his famous raised-fist goal celebration. The room is wallpapered with images of fans in a football stadium.
The resort-like cemetery also features an auto museum that now includes the Mercedes Benz S-280 the company gave Pele in 1974 to commemorate his 1,000th goal.
“It’s a place that’s rich in detail, all lovingly assembled in tribute, as the ‘King’ deserves,” cemetery manager Paulo Campos told AFP.
The mausoleum sits less than a kilometer (0.6 mile) from the Vila Belmiro, the stadium where Pele played most of his storied career.