Shadow Boxes of Almudena Cemetery – Cusco, Peru - Atlas Obscura

Shadow Boxes of Almudena Cemetery

Reclaimed material from a convent destroyed by cannonfire was used to build parts of this 19th-century cemetery. 

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Almudena Cemetery is the oldest cemetery in Cusco and over the years has expanded up to seven acres. Now more than 23,000 people are buried here, most in stacked crypts with shadowbox window displays created by the deceased’s families. Families pay annual rental fees to keep the bodies entombed. Each shadowbox is uniquely decorated, with toys, flowers, photos, mementos, and figurines displayed behind glass. Local schoolboys are paid by families to clean the metal surfaces of the tombs with lemon rind and sweep the surfaces. 

Almudena is located next to the church and convent of the Bethlemitas (formerly Hospital of the Bethlemitas). It was built in 1850 by order of Blessed Miguel Medina, given the unhealthy conditions in which the deceased were buried at the time. The façade was built with remains of the temple of San Agustín, shot by Agustín Gamarra in the years of independence from Spain. It is said that the wall was used for executions in those times of warfare. The construction of the current Almudena Cemetery transformed the use of the square as well as that of the temple, becoming the main point of the city where funeral rites are carried out. The east wing of the cemetery holds the oldest mausoleums, which date back to 1857. 

A characteristic of this cemetery that differentiates it from the rest of Peru is the use of gold and silver metal on the tombstones, unlike the plaster or marble that is common in the rest of the country. Likewise, the tombstones can be adorned by the family with different miniatures, displaying the uniqueness of each family buried there. 

Know Before You Go

The cemetery is free to visit. Photos are allowed here, though visitors should be respectful while visiting this active cemetery. Its daily hours are 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. 

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