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Associated with the grim and ghoulish, it’s not surprising that graveyards are often overlooked as destination points. But as the resting places of the good, the bad and the gravely immoral, they are among the world’s most storied spots, their incumbents acting as the lifeblood for grandiose architecture – from underwater mausoleums to pilgrimage sites – and flourishing wildlife. It’s no wonder that a stroll through a cemetery has become a popular date idea – just be wary of what they’ve got planned for afterwards.
Dappled sunlight decorates tree-lined paths amid grandiose mausoleums and tombs. Join the 3.5million visitors who visit this graveyard each year and soak up some history at one of the three World War One memorials. Take a detour down a cobblestoned lane and visit the graves of celebrities such as Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf and Chopin.
Known for one very loyal canine, multiple books and films have been made about the life of Greyfriars’ Bobby, a Skye terrier who spent every day for 14 years guarding his owner’s grave at Kirkyard cemetery. More recently, J. K. Rowling has admitted to roaming round the graves for inspiration for Harry Potter names. If you look carefully, you can spot the grave of a Thomas Riddell Esq. and a William McGonagall. A statue commemorates him just outside the graveyard, which is thought to bring good luck to those who touch it – put your scepticism aside and give his nose a good rub.
Situated in the ancient village of Koyasan in the mountainous Wakayama Prefecture, Okunoin cemetery has been deemed one of the most spiritual places in Japan. The graves of over 200,000 Buddhist monks line the two-kilometre pathway leading up to the tomb of Kukai, the founder of Shingon Buddhism. Believed to be resting in eternal meditation, visitors wander down the lantern-lit path in order to ask for salvation from the Buddhist master. Dating back to 816AD, a thick, mossy forest surrounds the graveyard, adding to the cemetery’s foggy mysticism.
Pitched in a small commune in a northern corner of Romania, the Merry Cemetery proves that graveyards are not always filled with doom and gloom. Here, each grave is decorated with joyous tributes to the deceased in a tradition started by local artist Stan Ioan Patras in 1935. Producing personalised, colourful paintings, devotional rhymes and ornately carved crosses to memorialise the departed, the grounds are a marked break from austere cemetery custom. Look out for those epitaphs that border on facetious with some referring to drinking and cheating, and others cracking mother-in-law jokes.
Once a simple church orchard, La Recoleta is now one of the most famous cemeteries in Latin America, if not the world. Filled with graves, tombs and mausoleums of myriad architectural styles, the faded stone surroundings provide a stark contrast to the lively atmosphere of Buenos Aires. Dating back to 1822, the cemetery’s 6400 graves include that of the famous First Lady Eva Perón, past Argentinian presidents and Nobel Prize winners. However, its most visited grave is home to 19-year-old Rufine Cambaceres, who died in 1902. According to legend, her grave was opened after screams were heard coming from inside, only to find scratch marks covering the inside as evidence of her failed attempt to escape.
With overgrown trees, flitting birds, slinking foxes, towering obelisks and ancient cedar trees, Highgate Cemetery belongs more in a Disney film than suburban North London. A haven for twitchers, history lovers and young couples taking romantic strolls (it’s surprisingly romantic), explore over 53,000 gothic tombs, keeping your eyes peeled for notable residents such as Lucien Freud, George Eliot, Christina Rossetti and Karl Marx.
Rows upon rows of sand-coloured tombs rest in tonal unison with the Jerusalem desert that lies east of the Mount of Olives. The oldest graveyard in Jerusalem, the cemetery has been in use for more than 3,000 years and is almost at its capacity with over 70,000 tombs. The crowning jewel of Mount of Olives is the Silwan Necropolis, where some of the highest-ranking rabbis, prophets and politicians of the city rest in tombs cut between the ninth and seventh centuries BCE.
Situated on the Wilmington River amid gnarled Southern oak trees and sweeping Spanish moss, Bonaventure graveyard is a tranquil spot of decorative tombs and statues. Visitors hoping to find the Bird Girl sculpture – seen on the front cover of the 1994 John Berendt novel, Midnight – will leave disappointed as the statue has been moved to a local museum. Instead, keep an eye out for the tomb of Little Gracie, a six-year-old girl who died of pneumonia in 1889. Her grave is marked by a carving of her by sculptor John Waltz and is said to be an exact liking. Often covered with flowers and children’s toys, it is the most visited site in the cemetery.
Forty-feet under the sea off the coast of Miami, Neptune Memorial Reef is one of the world’s more unusual cemeteries. Accessible only by boat, the graveyard is the largest man-made reef in the world. The concrete tombs and sculptures are reminiscent of Plato’s Atlantis, creating an eerily beautiful underwater realm. Although primarily a cemetery, the Memorial Reef also hopes to transform 16 acres of barren ocean floor into a thriving ecosystem. By banning fishing in the area and building structures to help support corals and algae, the reef ensures that the project is ecologically viable.
Since its creation in 1899, Hollywood Forever has been a popular location for community events, often hosting music concerts and film screenings in association with Paramount Studios which is located at the back of the plot. Famous for its notable residents, visitors can search for the tombs of Mickey Rooney, Mel Blanc and Bugsy Siegel and since 2017, Judy Garland. Although the Hollywood legend died in 1969, she was moved from her original burial spot in New York to be placed in the beautiful ivy-covered Judy Garland Pavilion years later.
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