These famous European cemeteries 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. These veritable-museums-in-the-open-air reflect the final wishes 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 necropolises 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. Notables 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 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
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
Read part two of unique European cemeteries.
Which one of the famous European cemeteries is your favorite?