In Search of Cemeteries Alive With Beauty, Art, and History
These resting places celebrate life.
Despite its irreverent title, the recent book 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die is quite specific about appropriate behavior in graveyards. “Rule number one is be respectful,” Loren Rhoads writes. “Even cemeteries that are closed to new burials deserve to be treated like something precious and irreplaceable, because they are.”
Cemeteries are, by their nature, full of stories, which is what Rhoads wanted to tap into when creating the book. “Our relationships with the places we visit can be deepened and enriched by learning the stories of those who came—and stayed—before us,” she writes.
The book spans burial sites across the globe and through the ages. In the remote Scottish Hebrides, at Reilig Odhrán on the Isle of Iona, ancient, worn gravestones mark the resting places of Irish, Scottish, and Norwegian kings. Argentinian First Lady Eva Perón is buried in La Recoleta, a cemetery in Buenos Aires. In Iran, the grave of 12th-century mathematician and writer Omar Khayyám is marked with a towering, geometric 20th-century monument.
The book doesn’t just focus on the resting places of famous figures. Some are there for beauty alone. Barcelona’s Poblenau Cemetery contains a sculpture of young man, collapsed to his knees, in the tender embrace of a winged skeleton. Known as The Kiss of Death, it is both beautiful and unsettling—both work of art and memorial. Sydney’s Waverley Cemetery sprawls across 40 acres of oceanfront land, where headstones and monuments tumble towards the water. And in Romania’s Merry Cemetery, bright blue grave markers hold paintings of the deceased. These monuments both create atmosphere and hold important symbols.
Cemeteries are monuments to death, but also sites of contemplation and appreciation of life. “There’s nothing like visiting a cemetery to give you a little perspective,” writes Rhoads. Atlas Obscura has a selection of images from the book, which was released in October 2017.
This story originally ran on September 15, 2017.
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