What is it about cemeteries that attracts visitors and photographers? Some find it morbid and bizarre to walk around among gravestones and the dead, but I find most cemeteries to be peaceful and hauntingly beautiful places to spend an hour or two.
A rainy morning in Père-Lachaise Cemetery is one of my favorite memories of Paris. The weak morning sun seeping through the mist and illuminating the cobblestone walkways was the perfect backdrop for the mossy headstones engraved with famous names. Any reader, musician, artist, or just plain citizen of the world can appreciate a reflective stroll by the resting places of Proust, Molière, Chopin, Jim Morrison, and Seurat, among many others.
An Ottoman-era cemetery high above Sarajevo is an incredible vantage point for seeing the valley in which this embattled Balkan city lies. The stories of snipers shooting down from these hills during the Seige of Sarajevo come frightening alive with this view, and the 15th century setting adds to the drama of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s tangled history.
Eva Perón’s grave is but one small reason to venture into La Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires. As in Paris, the architecture of the tombs is spectacular in itself, and the narrow lanes arranged in a grid pattern evoke almost a neighborhood feeling among the tiny buildings. An abundance of cats and cobwebs adds to the mysterious allure here.
In Krakow, there are two fascinating cemeteries in the Kazimierz neighborhood, the “New” (1800s) and “Old” (1500s) Jewish Cemeteries. Oddly, the “new” one feels more ancient than the older one (also known as Remuh), perhaps because so many of the headstones are aslant and covered with moss. The older-growth trees half block the sun, dappling the toppling graves with light and shadow.
When I thought back on a number of trips, I was astonished to realize just how many other cemeteries I had visited, from the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer, France, to Arlington National in Washington, D.C., Montparnasse in Paris, and St. Louis in New Orleans.
Among all these monuments to mortality, perhaps the most emotional was an overgrown plot in Vasta, Greece, where I located the rough stone under which my great-grandfather lies. Grand or humble, cemeteries can be a quiet step back in time and a surprisingly serene way to spend a few hours outside on my travels.