Grave Discoveries

30 03 2009


                               Cementerio Cristobal Colon,  Havana                                   


Geography question: How do you find the dead centre of a city?


Answer: Follow the signs to the cemetery.


Okay, I’ll admit that jokes like that could be the death of me, but cemeteries are often some of the most interesting places in any city and yet overlooked by many visitors – even though people are just dying to get in. (Sorry, couldn’t resist it). Although often filled with architectural masterpieces in the forms of monuments and mausoleums and tributes to some of that city’s most famous sons and daughters, their locations are often buried in most guidebooks (I promise, that was the last one…maybe!).


There are some famous cemeteries around the world that do feature on the tourist trail, however. Moscow’s Novodivechy is that city’s third most popular tourist attraction and is ‘home’ to Chekhov, Prokofiev, Schostakovich, Gogol and Eisenstein as well as cosmonauts and former presidents. London’s Highgate attracts so many visitors keen to see its beautiful monuments – not to mention the grave of famous Marx brother Karl – that they charge admission, even if you’re not in a wooden box!


Paris’s Cimetiere du Pere Lachaise has a steady line of visitors coming through its Doors to see Jim Morrison’s grave, while hundreds of thousands of people pay their respect to former teamster leader Jimmy Hoffa by visiting Giants Stadium each year.


Even if a cemetery doesn’t boast the rich and famous or its head stones are in an unintelligible script, they are still culturally and historically significant and well worth a visit. Cairo’s “Cities of the Dead” are home not only to the dead but also to the living who have moved into many of the vaults and turned the cemeteries into overcrowded neighbourhoods. Havana’s Cristobal Colon cemetery encapsulates the city’s history where cardinals rub shoulders with communists and even the country’s love of baseball is acknowledged.


If you want to visit a cemetery, first enquire if it is permitted to do so as different cultures have different traditions when it comes to their dead. Also check if there is a dress code, if it is allowed to take photographs, if you need a guide or even if it’s safe to go alone: some cemeteries are in less than desirable neighbourhoods where visitors and even mourners are known to fall victim to thieves. Most importantly, if you do visit a cemetery, always be respectful. 


And finally, if there’s a particular grave you’re looking for, make sure you obtain a map so that you don’t lose the plot (that’s the last one, I promise!).


The end.



Photo and post by:  Simon Vaughan