By Deb Zulawski
Blogger, artist, photographer, global traveler, and soon-to-be expat currently living in the Pacific Northwest.
There is something really special about the old cemeteries around the world, be it in Italy, France or Latin America. Behind tall protective walls, walkways separate the white washed mausoleums, ground level graves, and stone tombs, some cracked and crumbling from time. Some are graced with flowers, some old and faded, others freshly placed. Gravestones that lean from the weight of time have been carved with family names and dates to last into eternity. Broken stones, rusted wrought iron doorways hanging off their hinges sit side by side with the well maintained and freshly groomed. Photos faded from the sun, meant to honor those who have gone before, are now a dim reflection of the past. Angel statuary is strategically placed to protect those who have gone before.
A rusty gate protects the remains within.
One of the cemeteries that my friend, Pam, and I spent a lot of time walking through was in Valparaiso, Chile. For the longest time we walked in solitude, in our individual direction, with our own thoughts, as we moved through the cemetery. We imagined who was placed here or there and what had been their story?
The cemetery is a place of life and of death, of remembering and recording lineage. It is like an outdoor history book written in stone with no words to tell the story.
In the distance a man stands alone and bends to place something on a grave. The grounds keeper makes his way around the mausoleums to maintain and remove debris. A purple flowering tree of a hundred years or maybe more stretches it crooked limbs over the wrought iron fencing that lines the perimeter, intended to either keep people in or keep them out, or simply to say, this is a place where our hearts lay.
We wander quietly and after some time walk slowly out of the cemetery reflecting on life and death, what was and what could have been. The cemetery holds the secrets that will remain for an eternity.
In Mexico there is a holiday that is held annually, mainly in the south and central regions of the country, called the Day of the Dead. The celebration surrounding this day involves families visiting the cemetery, the creation of altars to remember the dead and the preparation and enjoyment of traditional foods.
Pictures of loved ones past are placed on altars which are decorated with flowers, generally Aztec marigolds, ceramic or plastic skulls, a special day of dead bread and candles. Favorite foods of those past are also prepared and placed on the altar. It is a time for gathering together, remembering and praying for souls of family and friends who have died, in an effort to ease their spiritual journey.
Day of the Dead was originally held in early summer, but after colonization by the Spaniards, it was moved to the end of October to coincide with the catholic Christian holiday of All Saint’s Day.
Oscar Wilde's headstone covered in lipstick kisses.
Some may visit cemeteries around the world to explore the history of those who are buried there or to look for a famous person who has been laid to rest.
A beautiful cemetery located on the hills overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
In most cemeteries, one can find people buried there who were soldiers, community leaders, artists, authors, actors and musicians, along with the common people of the community. The final resting place of Oscar Wilde is in the Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. Jimi Hendrix is buried at the Greenwood Memorial Park in Renton, Washington, USA and Pablo Neruda, a Chilean poet, was buried on his estate on Isla Negra, Santiago, Chile.
Visitors place pennies on the gravestone of Paul Revere.
I think the reason many will visit and wander through old cemeteries in silence and wonder is not only to honor and to reflect on those who have lived before, but to appreciate the mystery of a forever hidden history, secrets of the past, never to be spoken, but also to reflect on the future, how we will be remembered, our own mortality and our own history.
What interesting or unusual cemeteries have you visited during your travels? Please leave your comment below.
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