I have a travel confession to make: I am really fascinated by cemeteries.
I used to live not that far from my hometown’s main cemetery, the Hauptfriedhof, which is popular with the locals as a recreational outdoor space.
The Dortmund Hauptfriedhof is like a huge park with mature trees, dreamy stone bridges, and very quiet corners. And you won’t find just mourners here. People like to walk their dogs here, while others watch the squirrels chase each other up and down the chestnut trees. In winter the kids slide down the slopes on their wooden toboggans. It’s not a place at all that you would avoid or try to ignore, it’s integral part of the community.
Wherever I travel, I am also interested in the way people bury their dead. In Samoa, for example, I was amazed to see that families like to stay together even in death, with their ancestors’ burial side located right next to the family home.
On North Stradbroke Island off the Brisbane coast, the little Dunwich Cemetery is beautifully decorated with seashells, feathers and flowers. As an island cemetery it has a very strong connection with the local community, and there are many life stories told of people who have come from Ireland and other places to live and die on this island.
The Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris fascinates me with its big tombs, the delicate angel statues and of course, the great number of famous people buried here, for example Edith Piaf, Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde.
Even small country towns can offer sublime graveyard experiences, in particular when the century-old village church is surrounded by an ancient collection of weathered, mossy tombstones, as I have seen many times in Wales.
Outback places and ghost towns have the most wonderful cemeteries, with crooked tombstones and rusty iron fences and dry grass covering the graves. Fine examples can be found in Silverton, NSW, and in White Cliffs, NSW.
And, of course, there is stunning Waverley Cemetery right here in Sydney, which is located in one of the priciest locations of the city, overlooking the Pacific. You can see some stunning pictures in an earlier post here.
I like to walk among the tombstones and read the engravings. The names of the deceased, their dates of birth and dates of death, the cause for their passing, if given. I mourn for the souls that have left the face of the earth too early, and I admire any person that has outlived the life expectancy of their generation. I find solace in a well-kept grave that is covered in blooming flowers and neatly trimmed hedges.
I really don’t think that that’s morbid or tasteless, although some people have labelled it with the rather ugly term “Morbid Tourism”. I don’t agree – I think death has to have a place in life as much as life itself.
And did you know that there is a fascinating piece of cemetery architecture right here in Sydney? The Mortuary Railway Station in Chippendale is a fine example of 13th century Venetian Gothic architecture, in a new interpretation by James Barnet who was awarded this project in the middle of the 19th century.
In the early days of the Sydney colony, burials took place on the site of the Town Hall. However, with the construction of the Town Hall, a new area was purchased that was just outside the city’s boundaries at that time. The newly established Devonshire Street Cemetery was located near Central Station. When this cemetery filled quickly, Rookwood Necropolis was established in a parkland setting, and a Mortuary Station consequently was built to transport the bereaved and the dead to this newly built cemetery.
Mortuary Station is a beautiful sandstone building which was designed by the same person who was also responsible for the General Post Office in Martin Place. The intricate carvings in the sandstone pillars in particular are magnificent and full of detail. The overall composition of Gothic elements are reminiscent of traditional ecclesial constructions.
I had the chance to visit this fascinating building during Sydney Open in November, an annual one-day event that allows ticket holders to access 50 significant buildings around the city centre. Since its closure as a station serving the cemetery, Mortuary Station (or Regent Street Station as it is also known) has seen a number of re-interpretations. Product launches have been conducted here, and pancakes were served in permanently parked rail carriages, and weddings were celebrated.
Mortuary Station is a wonderful puzzle piece of Sydney’s history. It is currently being managed by Sydney Trains and, while currently in disuse, will still be opened from time to time to the public on special occasions.
>>> Sydney like a local: Sydney Travel Guide by Happiness and Things