Around The World In 13 Cemeteries

I’m not a goth. I don’t listen to death metal music. I don’t hold séances or have a Ouija board. I don’t cast spells, curse ex-boyfriends or make animal sacrifices. I am, however, fascinated with cemeteries.
 
Every time I travel to a new city, I always make a point of visiting one or two. I don’t know how to begin to explain it; I just feel weirdly comfortable amongst the tombs and hidden pasts. It’s a sadly outdated misconception that cemeteries are always dark, dingy places to be avoided at all costs. The majority of cemeteries are set on grounds beautiful enough to rival the city’s botanical gardens. Cemeteries aren’t just a place for the dead, the mourning and the creepy; they’re also brilliant destinations for photographers, history buffs and botanists. These are some cemeteries I’ve loved from my travels over the past decade…
 
 

1. Metairie Cemetery, New Orleans, USA

5100 Pontchartrain Boulevard, New Orleans, LA
Claims to fame: Eve Curie (Marie Curie’s daughter), Louis Prima (jazz musician)

The Metairie Cemetery used to be a racetrack, but was converted to a burial ground after the Civil War. It’s known as one of the oldest and most beautiful cemeteries in the city, with enormous open grounds and some seriously impressive mausoleums and tombs.

2. Green-wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, USA

https://www.green-wood.com
500 25th St, Brooklyn, NY
Claims to fame: Jean-Michel Basquiat (artist), William “Boss” Tweed (politician), Elias Howe Jr (inventor of the sewing machine)

Just over half the size of Manhattan’s Central Park, Green-Wood cemetery is one of the most beautiful green spaces in Brooklyn. It’s open to the public all year round, and with no entry fee charged. And if you’re not into the tombs and mausoleums, it’s a lovely, picturesque place for a walk.

3. Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin, Ireland

https://www.dctrust.ie/
Finglas Road, Dublin
Claims to fame: Brendan Behan (poet, writer), Luke Kelly (singer)

Glasnevin has finally realised the potential it holds as a tourism drawcard as well as a burial ground. They started restoration work on the cemetery 30 years ago, aiming to make it not only a top visitor attraction, but to have it recognised as a National Park and Botanic Gardens.

4. Hólavallagarður Cemetery, Reykjavík, Iceland

http://www.kirkjugardar.is/sida_en.php?id=3
Suðurgata, 101 Reykjavík
Claims to fame: Jón Sigurðsson (led the independence movement)

This is a seriously beautiful cemetery, away from the centre of the city, which gives it that extra-eerie vibe. None of the graves are particularly lavish or gaudy, and most of them are tucked under a carpet of green moss. If you’ve driven around Iceland, you’ll notice that there aren’t many trees around – I think that’s because they put them all in the cemetery to protect the graves. Bonus points if you can get there in winter while the snow is falling.

5. Graceland Cemetery, Chicago, USA

https://www.gracelandcemetery.org/
4001 North Clark Street, Chicago, IL
Claims to fame: Jack Johnson (boxer), Roger Ebert (film critic), Augustus Dickens (brother of Charles)

Another burial ground taking its commitment to taking the taboo out of cemeteries seriously is Graceland. Set on some of the most magnificent grounds I’ve ever seen, Graceland is a certified arboretum as well as a cemetery – they even offer the option for an arboretum tree tour of their 2000+ trees. Throw in a sparkling lake and tombs designed by some of the world’s best architects, and you’ve got a great day out in Chicago.

6. Montparnasse Cemetery, Paris, France

https://www.paris.fr/equipements/cimetiere-du-montparnasse-4082
3 Boulevard Edgar Quinet, 75014 Paris
Claims to fame: Simone de Beauvoir (writer), Charles Baudelaire (poet), Susan Sontag (writer), Jean-Paul Sartre (philosopher), Samuel Beckett (writer)

The second biggest cemetery in Paris, Montparnasse was built on what used to be farmland. The grounds are now covered in trees and flowers instead of bales of hay, and the residents include writers and philosophers instead of cows and horses.

7. Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, New Orleans, USA

http://www.lafayettecemetery1.com/
1400 Washington Avenue, New Orleans, LA 70131
Claims to fame: The Brunie Family (musicians)

This might be New Orleans’ most culturally diverse cemetery – it’s non-denominational and non-segregated. It sits out in the Garden District, so you can expect some beautiful greenery in and around it, and it was also a filming site for The Vampire Diaries and The Originals.

8. The Imperial Crypt, Vienna, Austria

https://www.kapuzinergruft.com/site/en/home
Tegetthoffstraße 2, 1010 Vienna
Claims to fame: The Habsburgs – Austria’s Royal Family

With around 600 years of rule over Austria, the Habsburgs needed a fairly impressive final resting place. And a crypt beneath a church in the middle of the city, filled with the most intricately made metal sarcophagi, more than fits the bill. This would have to be the most fascinating burial grounds I’ve ever seen – the art work on these sarcophagi was beyond anything I’ve ever seen.

9. Marble Cemetery, New York City, USA

https://www.nycmc.org/
52-74 E 2nd St, New York, NY 10003
Claims to fame: Stephen Allen and Isaac Varian (former mayors of NYC)

This tiny cemetery just pops up out of nowhere – it’s rarely open to the public, its residents are buried in vaults underground, and the plaques list only the families who own the vaults, not the people who are actually interred in them.

10. Protestant Cemetery, Rome, Italy

http://www.cemeteryrome.it/about/about.html
Via Caio Cestio, 6, 00153 Rome
Claims to fame: John Keats (poet), Percy Bysshe Shelley (poet), Giorgio Bulgari (businessman)

A cemetery in Italy. That sits behind an Egyptian pyramid. Filled with beautiful greenery. Swarming with stray cats. And home to artists and scholars from around the world. Random and fabulous enough to get your attention?

11. Pére Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France

https://www.paris.fr/equipements/cimetiere-du-pere-lachaise-4080
16 Rue du Repos, 75020 Paris
Claims to fame: Jim Morrison (musician), Edith Piaf (singer), Marcel Marceau (mime/actor), Oscar Wilde (writer), Frederic Chopin (musician), Honore de Balzac (writer)

This is the most visited cemetery in the world – the grounds (all 110 acres of them) are spectacular, and guest list (over a million are buried there) is incredible, and it’s been used as a filming location quite a few times. Just go and visit, ok?

12. St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, New Orleans, USA

425 Basin St, New Orleans, LA 70112
Claims to fame: allegedly, Marie Laveau (Voodoo priestess) and eventually, Nicolas Cage

This is the city’s most famous cemetery (and the oldest), and one of my favourites from this list. Unfortunately, you can no longer enter the grounds without paying a fee and employing the services of a tour guide, but it’s worth it.

13. Arlington National Cemetery, Washington, D.C., USA

https://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/
Arlington, VA, United States
Claims to fame: President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy

I usually find cemeteries to be a place of peace and beauty, but Arlington was heart breaking. It’s the only cemetery I’ve visited to date that was a truly sad place for me to be in. To see that many graves representing lives lost at war, in a country that was not my own, was a lot more overwhelming than I’d ever have expected.

Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris

Père Lachaise Cemetery
16 Rue du Repos, Paris
http://www.pere-lachaise.com/

Starting to look a bit morbid here, with another post about cemeteries, aren’t I?! I guess that’s at least partly true; I’ve always had a bit of a weird fascination with death. But that aside, I still maintain that cemeteries are very overlooked sites to visit when you’re travelling. They can give you a pretty good sense of a place and its history (are there Catholic crosses on the tombs? Coptic crosses? A Star of David?), what types of hardships its residents have been through (are there a lot of dates of deaths around the time of a war or pandemic?), and they’re more often than not in some of the city’s more beautiful park-like settings. Case in point: Paris’s Père Lachaise Cemetery.

It’s less than 10km from the Eiffel Tower, and you can get there easily enough on the no. 2 or no. 3 metro train lines. There’s no entry fee and you can walk around at your own pace, but it IS a big cemetery, so if you’d prefer to have someone show you around, there are plenty of companies that offer guided tours.

The grounds are open all year round, but visiting in autumn didn’t hurt as you can see by the perfect gold and red leaves throughout my photos. It’s become well-known as the final resting place of creative celebrities like Jim Morrison (photo below), Edith Piaff, Frederic Chopin, Oscar Wilde and Marcel Proust.

Another popular grave is that of Abélard and Héloïse, which I read about in Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad:

“Yet who really knows the story of Abélard and Héloïse? Precious few people. The names are familiar to everybody, and that is about all. With infinite pains I have acquired a knowledge of that history… to show the public that they have been wasting a good deal of marketable sentiment very unnecessarily.”

Turns out a lot of people know them as a love story, a Romeo and Juliet type love story. The real story as told by Mark Twain? He seduced her, they ran away, had a child. They got married, but were soon torn apart by his meddling uncle. She entered a convent and heard nothing from her lover for a decade until a letter arrived. They wrote to each other for a while, but would only meet again in death, when, as per Héloïse’s last wish, they were buried together…

 

Photo Journal: Graceland Cemetery, Chicago

Graceland Cemetery
4001 N Clark St, Chicago
https://www.gracelandcemetery.org

I could tell you how Chicago’s Lincoln Park used to be the city’s premier burial ground until Chicago’s City Council banned burials there. Or that it was decided to move the city cemetery to what’s now Graceland. I could tell you that the cemetery spans 121 acres, and holds the remains of the city’s most eminent residents, including architects, sportsmen and politicians. I could harp on about how beautiful a garden cemetery it is, how it feels like you’re taking the most magnificent nature walk when you’re in the middle of it, which Chicagoans have been doing since it’s establishment in 1961.

Instead, I’m just going to show you how stunning Graceland is through some pictures I took when I visited in late 2017…

Cemeteries get a bad wrap for being creepy places. They generally don’t rank very highly on the traveler’s list of things to see and do. But Graceland felt much more like a museum crossed with a park than a burial ground. Visiting in autumn was magic, with all the leaves turning gold and red. The map you collect when you arrive is also particularly helpful, and adding to the museum vibe is the list of the important citizens buried there and a little biography of them all. And the only remotely creepy thing was the Eternal Silence statue below, and that’s only because Atlas Obscura told me that “looking into its eyes a person could see the nature of their own death…”

Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, New Orleans

Lafayette Cemetery No. 1
Corner Washington Ave & Prytania St, New Orleans
http://www.saveourcemeteries.org/lafayette-cemetery-no-1/

 

In stark comparison to the clean lines of the mostly shiny white marble of the St Louis Cemetery No. 3 and a little closer to the beautifully dilapidated St Louis Cemetery No. 1, Lafayette No. 1 is surrounded by the most beautiful trees (as one might expect for a cemetery located in the middle of the Garden District). We visited in winter, and most of those trees had shed their leaves onto the tombs below. It gave the impression that the elements were somehow protecting their residents.

This cemetery is not only the oldest of the seven city-operated cemeteries in the city, but it’s also a non-denominational and non-segregated resting place for not only natives, but also immigrants from 25-odd other countries . Over 7, 000 souls in total are entombed in the cemetery.

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A walk through Arlington National Cemetery, Washington, D.C.

Arlington National Cemetery
Virginia side of Memorial Bridge, Washington DC
http://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/

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I’m not a supporter of war. I’m not saying I don’t support our troops when they’re called upon. I’m not saying I’m not extremely proud of the men and women who have fought for us and the comfortable and relatively safe lives we lead here. I’m not saying I haven’t been extremely humbled by the willingness of every day people to take up arms to defend their country and people. But a quote I read years ago that’s always stuck with me is “war doesn’t determine who is right; only who is left.”

I’m not going to write this post about my feelings and beliefs towards acts of war; I don’t want to open the debate, because I believe it’s too sensitive and personal. But yesterday marked Purple Heart Day in America, the day they choose to honor the men and women who have been wounded or killed in military service, and I thought it an appropriate and poignant time to share a few photos from my visit to Arlington National Cemetery in January. To call over 600 acres of tombs an overwhelming experience would be a disrespectful understatement. I wasn’t at all prepared for the enormity of it, or the impact seeing all of those tombs would have on me. It wasn’t easy to walk through, yet I felt it was a necessary walk, not just for me but for everyone. I think that in order to continue to justify the waging of war and hatred and taking of lives, everyone should walk through here; it completely takes your breath away to be standing among so many lost souls who needn’t have lost their lives so violently and horribly…

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