Though cemeteries may not top the standard travel itinerary, they offer an awesome cross-section of history, sociology, and a bit of a creepy factor. It doesn’t have to be Halloween to consider adding a cemetery to your travel plans, but a time originally dedicated to the remembrance of the dead does offer a perfect opportunity to check out these five cemetaries to visit that can provide some cultural and historical insight, all while getting you into the spirit of the holiday.
Old Jewish Cemetery: Prague, Czech Republic
Though WWII may have left many Jewish sites in Europe unrecognizable, the Old Jewish Cemetery remained largely intact. Noted today not only for the mass amounts of graves, but also for the historical value (the cemetery was in use between 1493 and 1787), the Old Jewish Cemetery represents a strict adherence to the customs that surround death — Jewish deceased were not allowed to be buried outside of this area for a length of time, and Jewish custom prohibits moving a grave site or gravestone. As a result, members of the Jewish faith in Prague were forced to bury their dead atop one another, resulting in a cemetery that spans not only centuries, but also layers of earth.
St. Louis Cemetery No. 1: New Orleans, LA
Don’t let the name fool you – this cemetery is Bayou through and through. St. Louis #1 is the oldest cemetery in New Orleans, and its landscape is distinct from most other cemeteries – there’s no six feet under here. Due to New Orleans’ topography, everything in this cemetery is above ground, as the coffins has an unfavorable habit of floating during routine flooding. There are no rows of tombstones as St. Louis Cemetery #1 – just rows of above ground graves and mausoleums. Additionally, New Orleans’ famous Voodoo priestess Marie Laveau is buried here, and many people still leave offerings and marks three Xs at her grave in hopes that she’ll grant their wishes.
The Catacombs: Paris, France
Though not technically a cemetery, no list of interesting entombments can leave out the catacombs. The Parisian catacombs were not initially created as a final resting place for its inhabitants, rather, it became such due to a cross-section of necessity, convenience, and Romanticism. The tunnels of the catacombs began as limestone mines, though they were eventually abandoned. The late 1700s saw Paris encountering two seemingly unrelated problems: Paris was running out of cemetery space (a key cemetery had recently become so over-filled that it broke into a neighboring basement wall, filling the basement with bodies), and the former limestone mines were causing instability and sinkholes. Millions of human remains were brought to the former limestone mines, and largely sat untouched for years. The rise of romanticism and preoccupation with death brought a more organized catacombs suitable for public viewing – a catacombs peppered with Romantic quotes, and memorials for Romantic poets.
Forest Lawn Memorial Park: Glendale, CA
Forest Lawn is often referred to as “the country club for the dead” thanks to the large volume of famous and influential individuals that are entombed there. From Walt Disney to Marilyn Monroe, Forest Lawn serves as a veritable who’s who list for entertainers who have passed on, and has served as such for decades. Expect to see many individuals paying their respects to Hollywood’s elite, as well as a sense of grandeur reserved only for the resting place of high-profile individuals, such as a re-creation of Michangelo’s statues from a cast of the originals and using marble from the same quarry.
City of the Dead: Cairo, Egypt
Rarely do you see the dead and living co-existing without clearly drawn boundaries, however, the City of the Dead is the perfect example of such. The City of the Dead largely houses Cairo’s poorest residents, who are residing there by necessity rather than choice – however, it also houses a good number of individuals who choose to live there in order to remain close to ancestors. Life intermingles with death in the form of tombs re-purposed into houses, and shops set up next to graves. The City of the Dead was founded in 642 AD, and truly represents a cross-section of life and death.