Howdy all! Yes you read right – that is the topic of today’s post! Why, I don’t hear you ask … well just prior to writing this, on the 30th of November (2020) I visited Melbourne General Cemetery. And it got me thinking.
Anyways – cemeteries are not often major features of a particular destination, but you can find some gems out there. Historic places where historic people have been laid to rest. Personally I love walking around and just reading grave stones – as long as the alphabet is readable to me I can work out what’s going on and imagine the person whose grave I stand before. And cemeteries, and I am mainly talking about older ones, can be extremely atmospheric, grand and even beautiful in their own way.
Please don’t think I have a morbid curiosity with the dead! I don’t. Although I just applied for a new job in a morgue. Okay – I didn’t. So one of the reasons to visit a cemetery is to visit the grave of someone famous – someone who means something to you. I can’t say I’ve been to Graceland because I haven’t, but it serves as quite the pilgrimage town for those who hold Elvis dearly in their heart. Melbourne General Cemetery has the graves of four Australian Prime Ministers, and a plaque to Harold Holt who died when he went swimming in rough weather and whose body has never been found. In fact, Melbourne even has a small memorial to the King, Elvis Aron Presley. As it is written on his memorial. And a little lower, it’s written Aaron Elvis Presley. Which was curious to me. Wikipedia says his name is Elvis Aaron Presley. So both technically are wrong!
But I digress. Now if you really want to see how they remember significant people in some places, places where they truly put them on a pedestal, you’ll find countries where leaders have their own mausoleum. For example, Turkmenbashi, the founder of modern Turkmenistan has his own mausoleum in front of his own, giant mosque in Ashgabat.
But there are leaders who have done one better. I have been to two mausoleums which actually have the bodies of these people on display for the public to calmly pay their respects to the people that made their countries what they are. Or were I guess. That’s in the case of Vladimir Lenin, embalmed and lying instate still in Red Square, despite the fall of the Iron Curtain and the Soviet Union 30 years ago nearly now.
In Hanoi I stood in line to get into Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum too. It was the first time I’d seen the actual body of an embalmed human being. I guess this is more of a communist thing. In both instances it was a very long line and you had to go through security before getting into that line. Then you had to keep moving and photography was, obviously, not allowed. And it was a fleeting moment that I got to see Ho Chi Minh and Lenin. Was it particularly weird? No, actually. I must admit it was almost a bit run of the mill.
The reason I went? Well, I am always looking for different experiences when I travel. There are only so many temples and museums you can take to be honest. And there was definitely a curiosity. Not a morbid one, though, by any means. Part of me wanted to see why so many people would line up to see a dead guy lying behind glass. And part of me knew that these people lived a long time, at least in the case of Lenin, and had such a huge effect on so much of the world.
But – back to cemeteries. Because I got a little distracted there. The stories of the history of a city or town can be found in their main cemeteries. If you know a bit about a place, you may even know of a significant person buried there. And the prime example for that that I visited, is the La Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires.
This amazing cemetery is one which really has filled the area with as many graves as possible. It’s really quite beautiful and moving. But the one person they come to see – or at least see where she rests, is of course Eva Peron the woman who inspired the nation of Argentina, and an entire musical. It seems to be a cemetery for the rich – and frankly anyone who has some sort of statue or tomb was probably pretty well off not just in Argentina but anywhere – and this one has so many tombs, so much stone used, statues, images, just wandering around it for hours is quite the way to spend a little time. When you find Evita’s tomb, you find her listed as Eva Duarte, her maiden name with her family. It’s not the biggest or boldest tomb in Recoleta, but it is clearly the most visited.
Also in South America I visited the General Cemetery in Sucre. Here is another fascinating place to wander around, read the epitaphs if you know some Spanish, or at least imagine about the people who are buried there. Some parts have tombs on top of tombs, which in its way I found quite moving. And there appeared to be a lot of children buried in this cemetery, which is always heart breaking. You always imagine the heart break of the families and parents left behind after such tragedy. It’s mini ‘avenues’ lined with trees also add to the atmosphere.
I also remember the cemetery in Sigisoara, Romania, although not nearly as large, grand or filled with stone as an interesting one I visited. I think in fact it was a German cemetery. Then you could look to the Shah I Zinda in Uzbekistan, a mausoleum for rulers over the ages with so many grand tombs and designs. Behind that, a plot for a more modern but in some way more moving cemetery.
And then I bring you back to Melbourne. It’s the largest of lot I would say, of the ones I’ve mentioned today. It rolls over a series of hills. It has varying degrees of curation. I was there with a friend who helped me in my video and we agreed it seemed important to get your stone closest to the roads that allow access to all parts of the cemetery. Some graves were really old – it dates back to 1853. Some are new. The Prime Ministers have there own garden and a wall with all the Prime Minister’s names on it, including the ones who are still with them. It’s very nicely done. Find the graves of billiard great Walter Lindrum, whose grave is actually a stone replica of a billiard table. Or find the grave of Peter Lalor, who led the rebellion in Ballarat at the Eureka Stockade, the closest Australia has ever come to a civil war.
Or just walk around for hours if you like amongst people who helped Melbourne, Victoria and Australia become what it is today. You won’t be disappointed! And did I mention, generally speaking, you don’t need to pay to enter a cemetery?
I think I will look out on any further travels I do for an interesting cemetery. I nearly forgot to mention the one in Turkmenistan in the town of Nokhur, where the people believe they are descended from Alexander the Great. Their graves are adorned with rams’ horns, as they believe he wore them as a helmet. That was something else!
So, why not consider visiting a cemetery if you are sick of the stock standard tourist attraction? You don’t know what you mind find or learn. Thanks for reading today – Please comment! – May the Journey Never End!