There is something spooky, breathtaking and awe-inspiring all at the same time about cemeteries around the world that offer fantastic, mythical, memorable architecture. Here are 4 must-see cemeteries on three continents:
La Recoleta Cemetery (Cimenterio de la Recoleta) — Buenos Aires, Argentina
The cemetery in La Recoleta tops must-do lists for Buenos Aires, but we must admit we didn’t think it could be any different than a couple of the mesmerizing cemeteries named below. Still, we went. And it was so much more. First, ignore the tourist “circus” of street vendors outside the gates, the Western shopping mall and restaurants (TGI Friday’s?? Really?!) along one edge. Get thee inside. Its 14 acres (first opened in 1822) is gated and thus quite safe.
La Recoleta Cemetery seems to go on FOREVER (Note: Some of the most amazing architecture is along the far back walls and sides, so do NOT just do a loop to Eva Peron’s mausoleum and leave. Please.). It is well marked, usually with an English-speaking volunteer from the supporting non-profit at the gate. Leave yourself a couple of hours to wonder, peek in little windows, wonder at the grand statues, and watch family place flowers and mourn(it is an active cemetery).
Montmartre Cemetery (Cimitière de Montmartre) – Paris, France
Montmartre, first opened in 1825, spans nearly 25 acres, but seems smaller because the mausoleums are all jammed up on each other, scrunched into tiny spaces, and smooshed up under a major raised boulevard. Montmartre is in fact below street level.
Like most cemeteries you must see, Montmarte in Paris is a marvel with its sculptures from the 1800s and 1900s with notables buried there, including artists and philosophers such as Edgar Degas and Heinrich Heine. You can easily spend a couple of hours, but the cemetery with its marvelous streets and avenues is worthy of a peaceful stroll away from the frenetic city. Take a picnic and find a bench if the day is a nice one. Who knows? Maybe somebody will join you…
St. Louis Cemetery #1 – New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
Opened in 1789, St. Louis Cemetery is one of many in the New Orleans area, but stands out as the oldest as well as for its proximity to the French Quarter. It also is a safer visit (than, for example, Lafayette Cemetery in the Garden District) since you cannot simply wander in but must take a guided tour from a certified guide (as of 2015). It spans a mere city block, but many thousands call it “home.”
What makes many New Orleans cemeteries unique is of course above-ground burial – since the city is below sea level, burial above ground is a must! The must-see St. Louis Cemetery is a maze of vaults and magnificent tombs with the most notable burial there the “voodoo queen” Marie Laveau. The non-profit Save Our Cemeteries offers tours with a portion of the proceeds going to restoration and education. Welcome to the City of the Dead!
Jewish Cemetery, Schönhauser Allee (Jüdischer Friedhof) – Berlin, Germany
There are of course Jewish cemeteries all over the world. We found this one in Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood particularly haunting, in part because it is in fact falling apart and that it is in the heart of what was Hitler’s territory. Plus, the setting casts a somber light on the broken headstones set among a tangle of overgrown ivy and tall trees.
Established in 1827, this cemetery you must see hides a checkered history of wars and deportations with damage obvious here. In fact, there is a cistern on the grounds where some Hitler opponents hid in 1944, but were discovered by the SS, hanged and buried there. Jewish cemeteries, per the religion, may not be removed since their residents have come here to find eternal piece. They are called a “House of Light” – and if you come at the right time of day, you will see shafts of light and colors dancing off the ivy and through the trees that is a magical and moving sight. Note: Men are requested to cover their heads upon entry and a small box of traditional “kippots” is available for use at the gate.
Click here to read about the cemetery and watch a video in a larger HI Travel Tales story about the Prenzlauer Berg area.
In the case of all four of our must-see cemeteries on three continents, they are reachable by foot or with convenient public transit. Do pay attention to opening hours or any admission fees.