Cemeteries, along with large parks and markets, always top my list of sights to see in any city I visit.
Unlike shops and cafes, which are increasingly the same all over the world, cemeteries remain shielded from changes and give us a glimpse into the private workings of the city. Even in the busiest places, they are quiet and dignified, rarely overrun by tourists.
They help you get a sense of a city’s history and present, much better than heavily curated historical or ethnographic museums.
Belgrade’s beautiful Sephardi cemetery immediately tells a story of its almost vanished Jewish population, while white stelae dotting Sarajevo’s hills allow you to see the enormity of the tragedy the city underwent during the siege in 1990s.
Opulent tombs are testaments to society’s showiness, family mausoleums show preference for domesticity, while various decorations on graves show cultural influences and pretensions.
Then, of course the personal stories that some graves tell allow us not only to feel the hopes and sorrows of those long gone, but also to resurrect them for a few brief moments while we think about their lives.
Finally, of course, they helpfully remind us that wherever we end up, whichever religion we espouse, whatever we do, and however much wealth we amass, all that will remain will be basically a handful of characters, etched into stone, which some visitor at some point might read and think about.
Top 10 cemeteries to see before you…umm… die:
- Arlington, Virginia
- Royal Tombs around New Delhi
- Highgate, London
- Old Carlton Hill and Greyfriars, Ednburgh
- Recoleta, Buenos Aires
- Mirogoj, Zagreb
- Pere Lachaise, Paris
- New Cemetery, Belgrade
- Poblenou, Barcelona
- Žale, Ljubljana