Updated October, 2020.
These famous European cemeteries, among the great cemeteries of the world, are fascinating. They are repositories of a culture’s history and heritage. Although we equate these cities of the dead with sorrow and loss, they are also serene, contemplative areas that cause us to reflect.
Many European cemeteries are famous for their stunning funerary statuary, others for their landscaped grounds. Still others are lauded for the whimsical humor on the tombstones, like the Merry Cemetery in Romania or for the sheer size like London’s Brookwood, one of the largest cemeteries in the world at 500 acres.
Some are celebrated as the final resting place of famous people like Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde both buried in Pere Lachaise, the famous- and biggest Paris graveyard, and certainly among the top 10 cemeteries in the world. Or the grave of Karl Mark in Highgate, one of the most famous cemeteries in London. Famous graves are one of the biggest draws in these unique cemeteries.
These interesting cemeteries, some of which are the most beautiful cemeteries in the world are veritable-museums-in-the-open-air. They reflect the final projections of their eternal residents. What did they or their loved ones want to communicate to the living?
There is so much interest in these beautiful European cemeteries that there are now several organizations promoting historical and famous European cemeteries. These provide a roadmap to some of the most famous European cemeteries. Find many of them here, courtesy of travel bloggers who have visited them.
FAMOUS EUROPEAN CEMETERIES
Old Jewish Cemetery, Prague
Not far from the tourist-swarmed streets of the old town, lies Josefov, the former Jewish ghetto in the center of Prague. Before the city’s population was banned from burials inside the city walls, this cemetery was in use for about three centuries and holds around 12000 bodies buried in a limited space of size of an urban city block. Since space was limited and the Jewish population was only allowed to buy land occasionally, the shortage of burial space became a big problem. Since Jewish respect for deceased souls does not allow to abolish the graves, people started layering up the cemetery. Don’t be surprised by the dense forest of gravestones as there are places in this cemetery where you can find up to twelve layers of bodies with all the associated gravestones leveled up to the top.
This important historical monument caught my attention as it not only represents the strict laws for Jews at that time but also reflects the constant struggle of finding their own space even centuries before World War II. Not surprising that it has also been included in National Geographic’s list of top ten cemeteries to visit. The cemetery nowadays can be visited with the Jewish Museum (Entrance from Klaus Synagogue).
Weekend travel blogger at And There She Goes Again.
Cimetière du Château in Nice
Otherwise known as “Chateau Cemetery” due to its unique location on the Chateau hill, it has never gone unnoticed by tourists. Its unique gothic architecture stands out from any other cemetery. With nearly 3000 tombs to date, this spot on the hill has incredible views overlooking Nice and Promenade des Anglais.
Chimetiere de Chateau was created in the late 1700’s due to King Victor Amadeus III banning burials in the churches. It was once a fortress that stood its ground since the 16th century and some of the remains are preserved on the structure of the terraces. After a massive fire in the Opera in 1881 that killed 200 people, a pyramid-shaped monument was built in the area. Perhaps one of the most scenic cemeteries in Europe filled with stylized tombs and jaw-dropping architecture, it is worth the stop on the way up to the castle. Famous people buried in the cemetery include:
- Emil Jenillenk-founder of Mercedes
- Freda Betti-opera singer
- Louis Feuillade- film director
- Alexander Herzen- novelist
- Gaston Leroux-journalist
- Jacques Monond- Nobel prize winner in 1965
- René Goscinny- creator of Asterix
Pierre at Anything Under Our Stars
The Merry Cemetery in Romania
Romanians really know how to laugh at death. The Merry Cemetery also known as the happy graveyard in Romania, located in Sapanta is one of Maramures’s beautiful attractions. Even though it is a place of commemoration, the cemetery is considered to be among the most popular places in Romania.
The Merry Cemetery has a history dating back to 1935, currently serving as the main attraction during the local festival, the “Long Road to the Merry Cemetery.” More than 800 wooden-carved monuments speak about their “occupant” through lyrics, artistic images, and poetic descriptions.
This place is known worldwide for its colorful and poetic graveyards which represent the life and personality of the one departed. One of the most popular lyrics is the following:
“Under this heavy cross, my poor mother-in-law lies. Three more days if she had lived, I would’ve been down and she would’ve been reading.” Obviously, this guy had a very nice relation with his mother-in-law.
All monuments are works of art. From really creative and funny lyrics to simple but representative pictures, the Merry Cemetery is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Romania and one of the most unique European cemeteries.
Alina Martiniuc at Visit and Review
Cimintero Monumentale is definitely one of the nicest cemeteries I’ve seen, not to mention one of the best free places to visit in Milan! The cemetery is open every day and free to access, and on given days there are also volunteers running free guided tours in Italian and English taking visitors through the cemetery and pointing out the best graves and statues. Not everyone can get a grave at Cimitero Monumentale. The cemetery is reserved for Milan’s most illustrious citizens and those who have money to get one of the plots selling for very high prices.
There are so many statues to explore scattered all around the quiet, leafy park, that everyone will find their own favorite. Mine is the Campari family tomb, reminiscent of the Last Supper. Also of note, the Bernocchi family, a kind of spiral tower. Also don’t miss visiting the Famedio, Milan’s version of the Pantheon, and the Jewish Cemetery, one of the quietest and most atmospheric places in Cimitero Monumentale.
Margherita at The Crowded Planet
Nestled in the working-class Testaccio neighborhood between Rome’s Piramide Cestia and the Aurelian Walls, the Non-Catholic Cemetery is crammed with tearful statues and finely decorated graves of artists, foreign diplomats, writers, and politicians who didn’t belong to the Catholic faith.
Rome’s Protestant Cemetery was created in the early 18th century with permission given by Pope Clemens XI to the members of the Stuart Court in exile to be buried in front of the Pyramid. Later, the authorization was extended to others as well.
Among the most famous people buried here are the English poets John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley, the only son of German poet Goethe, the American explorer Thomas Jefferson Page, Italian novelist Carlo Emilio Gadda, Italian philosopher and politician Antonio Gramsci, and Russian painter Karl Brullov among the others.
A stroll around this cemetery is an immersion in art and beauty, and each grave tells a story. The most famous statue is The Angel of Grief by American sculptor William Wetmore Story, which represents an angel kneeling over the resting place of Emelyn Story, the sculptor’s wife. Later, he was also buried there.”
Angela Corrias at Rome Actually
St. James Church
What do you do when your cemetery, despite frequent epidemics, has no room to expand? At St. James Church in Brno, Czech Republic, the solution was simple: use the graves again.
Starting in the 17th century, church leaders started digging up graves in their churchyard, waiting 10 to 12 years first so that the remains were nothing but bones. They piled the bones in a newly-built crypt under their church, but that soon filled up as well. Expanding the crypt into a new ossuary extension under the original graveyard helped solve that problem. When the graveyard was paved over in the 18th century to create St. James Square, the ossuary faded into obscurity.
It was not until 2001 that the ossuary was uncovered. Archeological research has concluded that it contains more than 50,000 skeletons. Today, you can visit the ossuary, now tidied from the chaotic piles of bones the archeologists found. Arranged in neat piles with dramatic indirect lighting, the bones still make a somber impression, aided by atmospheric background music and interspersed with modern sculptures.
Rachel Heller at Rachel’s Ruminations
Père Lachaise Cemetery
Père Lachaise Cemetery is the largest cemetery in Paris. One of the most visited graveyards in the world, it’s the resting place of celebrities like Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde among others.
A trip to the cemetery is a good break from the hustle and bustle of the popular tourist attractions. It is often referred to as sculpture garden cemetery. A walk along the winding paths admiring the sculptures adorning the tombstones could be therapeutic. The cemetery is practically a 44-acre artistic garden offering peace and quiet for both dead and alive.
Some of the popular tombstones with unique sculptures include Victor Noir, a French journalist popular for the way he died, Jim Morrison, lead singer of The Doors, Abelard and Heloise, a couple from the Middle Ages famous for their romance, Félix Faure, president of France from 1895 to 1899 and Théodore Géricault a French painter famous for his painting “Raft of Medusa”.
Oscar Wilde’s tomb represented by an angel carrying a stone, also always covered in lipstick prints is the most popular tomb in the cemetery.
At the entrance of the graveyard there are maps available to the most popular tombs, so that makes it slightly less complex to scout for the tombs amidst a sea of fascinating tombs.
Mamta Naidu at Mamta Naidu
I’m not sure how many cities have a cemetery ranked as one of the top things to visit, but the Necropolis in Glasgow has proved to be a popular tourist attraction. It is situated near to Glasgow Cathedral and was modeled on Père-Lachaise which is the largest cemetery in Paris. The Glasgow Necropolis is a 37 acre, multi-faith, Victorian cemetery which has seen 50,000 burials and is home to 3,500 tombs, many of which are works of art in themselves. Wealthy individuals commissioned impressive memorials which were designed by major architects and sculptors of the time. There are even grand monuments dedicated to individuals who are buried elsewhere. Although there are only memorials to less than 5% of the 50,000 plus people who have been interred, the details of each deceased were recorded and can be found in the archives of the Mitchell Library.
The Glasgow Necropolis also boasts impressive views over the city from its summit, which makes it an unusual but popular picnic spot. Although you can visit on your own, the best way to explore the cemetery is by joining a free guided walking tour which will really enhance your visit and knowledge of the city. ‘
Susanne Arbuckle at Adventures Around Scotland
There are many unique European cemeteries but a few stand out due to their stunning funerary statuary and the history reflected in the tombs and mausoleums.
Staglieno Cemetery in Genoa
Monumental Cemeteries in Italy can be seen in many cities throughout the country. They are where you will find the most impressive tombs of the families of the city. Staglieno Cemetery in Genoa is the most impressive of them all, it covers an area of over 1 km square. Opening in 1854 it is like walking through an art gallery. Here you see aspects of different art eras displayed in larger than life-sized sculptures.
Described by Mark Twain as ‘sculptured figures that are exquisitely wrought and are full of grace and beauty, ‘ this cemetery is filled with the stories of the people of Genoa. From Caterina Campodonico who spent her lifetime selling nuts to fund the building of her tomb which still show her with her nuts to sell, to the Appiani family tomb showing the family grieving at the bedside of their loved one to some of the richest residents displaying their lives and how charitable they were, no-one is excluded as long as they can pay. It truly is something to be seen to be believed and certainly one of the unique European cemeteries.
Ron and Michele Legge blog at Legging It
Cimitero Monumentale di Bonaria
Most people who visit Sardinia use Cagliari just as a base from where to explore the best beaches in Sardinia, or at most spend a weekend visiting the main attractions in the city. Yet, the capital of the island is packed with hidden gems that should not be overlooked.
One of the nicest places to visit in Cagliari is the Cimitero Monumentale di Bonaria, so beautiful that it looks like a huge, monumental open-air art gallery with sculptures of what were some of the most influential artists on the island between the 19th and 20th centuries. The most important families in the city would hire them to create intricate and beautiful sculptures to adorn the tombs of their beloved.
The cemetery was inaugurated in 1828, though the area where it is located was already a burial site in the Punic and Roman times. After Napoleon’s Edict of 1816 which prohibited burials in the city due to hygienic conditions, Bonaria became the main cemetery of Cagliari, as it was located in an area that at the time was far from the main center.
The cemetery stopped being used as a burial ground in 1968, remaining now a beautiful garden and an open-air museum, with beautiful statues, some of them packed with mystery and legends.
My Adventures Across The World
Poblenou Cemetery in Barcelona
Visiting cemeteries is one of the greatest ways to learn a lot about the history of a certain place. Barcelona has been a city of major importance for many centuries so you find several important historical cemeteries there. One of the most famous burial grounds is the Poblenou Cemetery found in a neighborhood very close to the beach. It can be easily visited since there are several metro stops quite close.
The cemetery was opened in the 18th century when there was no more space in the larger Montjuic cemetery. It was designed by Ginesi, an Italian architect and it is divided into two major sections: the one closer to the entrance has thousands of burial niches, while at the back you can find large individual crypts and family mausoleums. One of the most curious landmarks of the cemetery is the “Kiss of Death” statue, a winged skeleton kissing a young person. You can easily find the major sites in the cemetery following the leaflet that you can pick up at the entrance and truly enjoy one of the great and unique European cemeteries.
Surfing the Planet
Bunhill Fields Burial Ground, London
If you’re a fan of English Literature or history in general, Bunhill Fields Burial Ground in London is begging you to visit. Opened in 1665, Bunhill Fields Burial Ground has been the final resting place for thousands ranging from commoners to authors.
When it comes to special residents, the three most popular are John Bunyan, Daniel Defoe, and William Blake.
If you love a good mystery the following should intrigue you. Blake, a Romantic author, poet, and painter, is perhaps the most famous resident. However, his final resting place has never truly been verified and marked within the grounds. But recently a group of Blake enthusiasts believes they’ve discovered where he lies.
To learn more, and where they believe he is, you can read about their process of finding his spot, here. And if you’re a fan of indie rock, you’ll have to listen to Bloc Party’s “Ion Square” to catch the reference to finding Blake’s true grave. Happy hunting!
Scott & Hayley
Greyfriars Cemetery, one of the great unique European cemeteries, is in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town. It is beautifully gothic with graves dating back to the 1560’s. Most of the graves are grand and elaborate with intricate details which are fascinating to look at. It’s these graves that inspired JK Rowling and some of the characters in the Harry Potter books were named after the notable residents in Greyfriars. Many now visit to hunt out the graves of Tom Riddle and McGonagall and leave flowers and cards (please don’t, it isn’t really him!). As with most cemeteries, there is a resident ghost and he isn’t a friendly chap! George MacKenzie was a ruthless prosecutor of the Scottish Covenanters and as someone broke into his tomb he is now free to roam Greyfriars. Enter at night at your own risk. There is a cute story too though, of the little Skye Terrier Bobby who is thought to have watched over his deceased owner’s grave for 14 years, you can find a bronze statue of Bobby just outside the graveyard. You could easily spend half a day walking around Greyfriars, it’s utterly fascinating.
Nicola Holland at FunkyEllas Travel
Olšany Cemetery is the largest cemetery in Prague, Czech Republic. At one time in history, it was the resting place of up to two million dearly departed. Among its most notable residents is Jan Palach, the Czech student that set himself on fire to protest the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia.
Olšany Cemetery has a dreamlike ambiance. Overgrown lush green ivy crawl over the elegant statues and tombstones and speckled green moss blanket them with a comforting embrace. The thick canopy of trees creates a somber shadow over the cemetery and blots out sound from the outside world. Thousands of stories lay all around you, each unique, making a walk through this cemetery one of the most special and moving experiences you can have in Prague.
Randi & Michael at Just a Pack
Brompton Cemetery, London
Brompton Cemetery in London is one of those quintessentially Victorian cemeteries that you see in horror and period movies – think Sherlock Holmes and Finding Neverland, which were actually filmed here. It is part of what is known as ‘The Magnificent Seven’ cemeteries in London, and you will realize why as soon as you walk through the gate.
Built in 1840, it is one of Britain’s oldest cemeteries and it has over 35,000 monuments that go from simple headstones to grand mausoleums. Here you can find the graves of notable people such as Emmeline Pankhurst, the famous suffragette.
Don’t forget to visit the beautiful chapel and the colonnade. The catacombs are open to the public once a year, and if you happen to be there around that time, don’t miss this opportunity. Even if you don’t go in, have a peek through the gate and you will be able to see the ornate coffins stacked up on shelves. A pretty daunting sight!
Teresa at Brogan AbroadBeing the richest man in the cemetery doesn't matter to me. Going to bed at night saying we've done something wonderful, that's what matters to me. Steve Jobs Click To Tweet
Abney Park Cemetery
Location: Stoke Newington, Hackney, London
The beautifully overgrown Abney Park Cemetery is a unique cemetery that has even made its way into pop culture in Amy Winehouse’s music video, Back to Black.
Built in the early 1800s to cater for London’s rapid population growth, Abney Park gets its name from Sir Thomas Abney, who served as Lord Mayor of London at the time.
Abney fell into disrepair and was abandoned in the 1970s. As the years passed, Abney Park became overgrown but it was decided to maintain and manage this new and unique urban wilderness. Efforts were made to ensure a balance between the needs of Abney Park’s wildlife with the requirements of the historic landscape and structures as well as the Park’s memorial role.
Abney Park Cemetery is home to many rare species of plants from around the world. The oldest recorded tree is a 170-year-old Perry’s Weeping Holly, which is actually a bush.
Hundreds of species of insects thrive in the cemetery including the hoverfly Pocota personata; the rare moth Adela reaumurella and the girdled mining bee.
Famous tombs found in Abney Park Cemetery include William and Catherine Booth, founders of The Salvation Army plus, scores of Victorian comedians, pantomime actors and other performers.
The Intrepid Guide
This interesting cemetery is about as unique as it gets. There is nothing like it anywhere in the world. The headstones are uniquely Armenian structures known as khachkars. Khachkars are vertical slates used as tombstones. The tend to be made of brown or pink stone and generally have impressions of crosses. The custom of using khachkars as tombstones dates as far back of the 9th century. There are over 1000 khachkars in Noratus cemetery, some of which are ornately carved and all of which are unique. The art of khachkar carving has been declared a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Noratus is about 90 miles north of Yerevan, the capital of Armenia and is open daily. The place has become so famous as a tourist attraction that vendors and cafes have sprouted in the surrounding area.
Talek blogs at Travels with Talek
To learn more about these fascinating places follow the European cemetery route here.
Which one of these unique and famous European cemeteries is your favorite? We want to know.
Want to know more about these beautiful European cemeteries? There is so much more to learn.
Historic cemeteries of Latin America
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