10 of the World’s Most Beautiful Cemeteries to Visit | Historical Landmarks | History Hit

10 of the World’s Most Beautiful Cemeteries to Visit

These graveyards around the world are home to dazzling architecture, breathtaking vistas and moving monuments to the dead.

Harry Sherrin

23 Nov 2021

As burial grounds for the dead, graveyards aren’t always associated with beauty. But these cemeteries transcend their role as simply sites of burial: they are also places to view historic architecture, make religious pilgrimages, pay homage to the dead and enjoy the tranquility of nature.

From the famed Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris to the lesser-known Okunoin Cemetery in Japan, here are 10 of the most beautiful graveyards in the world.

Image Credit: Shutterstock

1. Pere Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France

Cimetière du Père-Lachaise, or Pere Lachaise Cemetery, was established by Napoleon I in 1804. Initially shunned for being too far from the city centre, it eventually gained popularity after the remains of some high-profile figures, including French philosopher Pierre Abélard, were moved there as part of a marketing campaign.

Pere Lachaise now boasts an array of iconic residents, including novelist Marcel Proust, playwright Oscar Wilde and The Doors’ frontman Jim Morrison. Equal parts peaceful, beautiful and haunting, Pere Lachaise is now the most visited cemetery in the world. It covers 44 hectares and contains over 70,000 burial plots.

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2. Highgate Cemetery, London, UK

Highgate Cemetery, in north London, was opened in 1839 as part of a plan to provide 7 large and modern cemeteries, now known as the ‘Magnificent Seven’, around the outside of central London. These days, it is split into east and west sections and is world-renowned as the burial place of Karl Marx. 

Sometimes branded a ‘Victorian Valhalla’, Highgate Cemetery is known for its elaborate Neo-Gothic tombs, sculpted stone angels and foreboding mausoleums. There are approximately 170,000 people buried in around 53,000 graves across the whole site.

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Image Credit: Shutterstock

3. Old Jewish Cemetery, Praque, Czech Republic

Prague’s Old Jewish Cemetery boasts some 12,000 tombstones, but is thought to house around 100,000 bodies. Jewish custom doesn’t allow for the abandonment of old graves, and Prague’s Jewish community was never able to expand the site. As such, it’s thought that bodies were buried above one another there, ultimately raising the surface of the graveyard several metres higher than the surrounding streets.  

It is unclear when the Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague was founded, but its oldest visible gravestone is that of rabbi and poet Avigdor Kara, dated to 1439. Amongst the crowded graves lie those of the creator of the golem, Rabbi Loew (d. 1609), and the former mayor of Prague’s Jewish Quarter, Mordechai Maisel (d. 1601). 

How we bury the dead has changed drastically throughout history, from grave goods to bed burials. But just how drastic are the changes in burial practices? In this episode, Cat is joined by archaeologist Dr. Emma Brownlee. Emma has studied an astonishing 33,000 graves across England and Europe and will be taking us through her research of these medieval graves.

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Image Credit: SC Image / Shutterstock

4. La Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Cementerio de la Recoleta, or La Recoleta Cemetery, is a 19th-century graveyard in the Argentinian capital of Buenos Aires. Due to the area’s marshy ground, the site contains above-ground mausoleums rather than burial plots. La Recoleta now extends over 14 acres and contains more than 4,000 vaults, 94 of which have been declared National Historic Monuments.

Opulent and grand, La Recoleta Cemetery resembles a city more than a burial ground with its impressive neo-classical gates opening up to winding tree and mausoleum-lined streets. It’s one of Buenos Aires’ most popular attractions and boasts some iconic graves, including that of actress and former Argentinian First Lady, Eva Perón.

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Image Credit: Hang Dinh / Shutterstock

5. Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia, USA

Arlington National Cemetery is both a military burial site and a cherished monument to America’s fallen soldiers. It started life as a house – Arlington House – built in memory of President George Washington. But as casualties mounted during the American Civil War (1861-1865), the land was designated a national cemetery. Some 5,000 soldiers were buried there before the end of the war.

Over the years, Arlington National Cemetery has come to serve as a memorial to all US military personnel who have died for their country. There are now approximately 300,000 graves at Arlington National Cemetery, all neatly aligned and each with a white headstone. It’s a powerful, sobering site.

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Image Credit: Old jewish graves on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.

6. Mount of Olives, Jerusalem, Israel

Nestled beside the Old City of Jerusalem, the Mount of Olives is a burial site that takes its name from the many olives trees that once covered the area. Considered to be of great significance to Jews, Christians and Muslims, the Mount of Olives is a highly revered and deeply holy site.  

Home to Biblical kings, rabbis and Christian prophets, the Mount of Olives has been used as a cemetery for some 3,000 years. Its sand-coloured tombs tower over Jerusalem, and it is thought to contain the remains of roughly 150,000 Jewish people.  

Image Credit: Cavalry Cemetery in Queens, NYC in front of the skyline of Midtown Manhattan.

7. Calvary Cemetery, New York City, USA

The Merry Cemetery in Sapanta, Romania, isn’t your typical burial ground: each grave is marked by a carved cross, on which humorous verses are scrawled and images are engraved. The idea is to reflect on the deceased’s life with a smile, referencing cherished moments and cracking jokes – no matter how rude or risqué.

Between 1935 and 1977, all carvings, paintings and inscriptions were the work of Stan Ioan Pătraş. After carving his own cross, he subsequently passed on the work to apprentice Dumitru Pop. The Merry Cemetery is now an active cemetery, a national museum and a popular tourist site.

Image Credit: Okunoin Cementery in Koyasan, Japan.

8. Okunoin Cemetery, Wakayama Prefecture, Japan

Dating back to 816 AD, Okunoin is Japan’s largest cemetery and one of its most revered religious sites, namely because the founder of Shingon Buddhism, Kobo Daishi, is buried there. The pathway to Daishi’s mausoleum is lined with the graves of over 200,000 monks, lit by 10,000 lanterns and lined with giant, moss-covered pine trees.

There are also many novelty tombstones at Okunoin including a spaceship, a coffee cup and a monument to termites. Now part of a UNESCO world heritage site, Okunoin is regarded as one of the most peaceful cemeteries in the world.

Image Credit: The 'Merry' cemetery in Sapanta, Romania

9. Merry Cemetery, Sapanta, Romania

The Merry Cemetery in Sapanta, Romania, isn’t your typical burial ground: each grave is marked by a carved cross, on which humorous verses are scrawled and images are engraved. The idea is to reflect on the deceased’s life with a smile, referencing cherished moments and cracking jokes – no matter how rude or risqué.

Between 1935 and 1977, all carvings, paintings and inscriptions were the work of Stan Ioan Pătraş. After carving his own cross, he subsequently passed on the work to apprentice Dumitru Pop. The Merry Cemetery is now an active cemetery, a national museum and a popular tourist site.

Image Credit: Looking out to the South Pacific, Waverley Cemetery is one of the most stunning burial spots in the world.

10. Waverley Cemetery, Sydney, Australia

Waverley Cemetery is a dramatic burial site towering above the South Pacific near Sydney, Australia. Many of its gravestones are carved out of Italian Carrara marble, which radiates a bright white hue under the Australian sun.

Waverley Cemetery has been used as a burial ground since 1877, when the first gravestones were set on the clifftop between Bondi and Bronte. It is now a protected heritage site and is home to various influential Australians including Henry Lawson, Jules Archibald and Reuben Uther.

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