Night had fallen, and as we entered the graveyard, I suddenly realized that my friend might not be as enchanted by this nocturnal stroll as I was. After all, we were in Transylvania and whichever way you looked at it, this could either seem like a bad idea, or a bad cliche.
However, there was something mesmerizing about the Victorian-style lamps and slither of moon shining down on the tombstones, enhanced by the howls from the surrounding hills. Dracula did say, “The children of the night, what music they make,” however, I think he was talking about wolves, not neighborhood dogs. Okay, so it was a cliche, but a fun one.
I love cemeteries, so it surprises me when people think it’s weird. Admittedly, I usually visit them during the day rather than in the dark, but that’s because I’m more freaked out by the weird humans that go bump in the night rather than any kind of spooks. I find them peaceful and calm; there’s nothing wrong with the occasional reminder of our mortality. I like the statues among the willow and yew trees, standing in these most final of final destinations. Reading the epitaph and date on a tombstone makes me wonder about the inhabitant’s life. Young, old, Famous or forgotten, they all have a story.
Apparently, I’m not alone in my fascination, and there are heaps of people who are interested in such grave matters. They’ve been labelled “grave hunters”, “gravers”, or the official but not-very-pleasant sounding term “taphophile.” It comes from the Greek word for tomb and “philia,” which denotes an extreme fondness. I wouldn’t say I’m any of those; although, I am a bit of a tombstone tourist. I’ll usually head to a good Cemetery when I hear about one, or chance upon them when I’m traveling.
Here are five of my favorites:
1. Cimetiere Père Lachaise, Paris
France’s most famous cemetery is the final resting place of so many dead artists and luminaries that you need a map to find your way around. Père Lachaise cemetery attracts more than 1.5 million visitors annually, who mostly come for the famous graves but stay for the drop-dead gorgeous monuments.
It’s more like visiting an outdoor museum of sculptures, and, since there are 70,000 tombs, you might stay longer than anticipated. The crowds tend to gather at the graves of The Doors frontman Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde, but other notable names include Chopin, Edith Piaf, Balzac, Proust and Gertrude Stein.
2. Old Jewish Cemetery, Prague, Czech Republic
The crowded, entangled tombs of Josefov Quarter in Prague each tell a story. Around 12,000 tombstones are crammed together in a disorderly tangle of new and ancient graves (from the 15th century) due to the insufficient space in the Jewish ghetto.
The cemetery survived the Nazi occupation of the city, since the occupiers had more chilling plans for the space; they decided to preserve the area as a “museum of an extinct race.” INXS featured the atmospheric burial site in their music video ‘Never Tear Us Apart,’ which perfectly captures its haunting appearance.
3. Highgate Cemetery, London
Highgate Cemetery is a great example of a Victorian Gothic necropolis. It will transport you back to 19th-century horror stories and their tales of grave robbers and ghouls. Home to some seriously cool catacombs, statues, tombstones and chapels, Highgate has long been sought out as the place to be buried in London. Features such as the Circle of Lebanon and Egyptian Avenue are of outstanding architectural importance. Admission to the West Cemetery is by guided tour only, but it’s worth it if you love history.
Highgate’s association with the occult has also intrigued the public, and in the 1970s, the media became obsessed with alleged supernatural activity attributed to the “Highgate Vampire.” Karl Marx is Highgate’s most famous resident, but others include the author Douglas Adams, novelist George Eliot, the Rossetti family (Pre-Raphaelite founders) and artists’ model and poet, Elizabeth Siddal.
4. Waverley Cemetery, Sydney
Set on the cliffs of Waverley, the views from this cemetery are to die for! Fortunately, you don’t have to do that to enjoy them. The cemetery is located on the coast between Bondi and Coogee, and features a large collection of excessively lavish Victorian and Edwardian monuments.
The almost-constant blue skies and open paths make this a peaceful and relaxing place to stroll. There’s a lot to see since 80,000 people have been interred here since 1877. Notable Australian writers like Henry Lawson and Dorothea Mackellar are buried here alongside politicians, athletes and war veterans.
5. The Merry Cemetery, Sapanta, Romania
Who says cemeteries have to be macabre and creepy? Sapanta Cemetery in the north of Romania is full of colorful wooden crosses that express grief and loss through dark humor and art. Each cross carries a vivid painting of the grave’s inhabitant and an original verse that tells you something about their life. Some of the stories are whimsical and some are tragic. Some even contain amusing anecdotes of the villagers’ indiscretions and events.
This place doesn’t sugarcoat the truth, and the resulting epitaphs are refreshingly human compared to the usual niceties. You don’t need to speak Romanian to appreciate the craftsmanship on display, as occupations are easy to guess from the art and include hunters, carpenters, farmers and foresters. Sometimes their deaths are also illustrated, if they happened in an unusual way.
Do you like visiting graveyards and cemeteries, or do you think it’s weird and creepy? Leave us a comment below!
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