5 Cemeteries You Have To Visit While Sightseeing

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While planning this list I'd considered calling it '5 Cemeteries You Have To Visit Before You Die', but I guess that'd be a little too morbid given the subject matter.

Defiantly not one to push on a Monday morning anyway. In all honestly, however, cemeteries have long fascinated me from a sightseeing point of view. In most cases they represent perfect windows into the traditions and practices of world cultures, whilst also providing insights into the people and ideals they hold most dear. In today's piece I'll be listing five of my favourite cemeteries, some of which I've visited personally and others I hope to see in future. Have a flick through and gain a bit of inspiration for your next sightseeing trip.

1) Glasgow Necropolis:

  • Where? 70 Cathedral Square, Glasgow G4 0UZ.

Just in case you were unaware, "Necropolis" is a word meaning "City of the Dead" that derives directly from Ancient Greek. It's certainly a fitting term for this iconic feature of Scotland's largest city, whose countless busts, statues, spires and obelisks crown the skyline behind Glasgow Cathedral.

It was established during the height of Glasgow's Victorian prestige as a place where the city's great and good could leave a prominent marker of their lifetime achievements. During a visit it's easy to see just how many of these people there were during the city's prosperous Victorian period, with around 3500 monuments spread out across 37 acres.

Glasgow Necropolis

Few places in and around the city make for a better daytime stroll. Firstly there's the location of the cemetery, on a luscious green hill with views that stretch for miles. Secondly there's the scale and structure of the cemetery itself. It feels as if it should be crowded yet everything's remarkably open.

The monuments themselves are stunning, with some of the most prominent being designed by the best architects and sculptors of their time. Be sure to look out for the Major Archibald Douglas Monteath Mausoleum, the hilltop statue of John Knox, and the highly ornamental John Henry Alexander Monument.

If you decide to take the City Sightseeing Glasgow tour during your visit to the city then the Necropolis can be reached easily by hopping off at stop 2.

2) Cimitero Monumentale di Milano:

  • Where? Piazzale Cimitero Monumentale, 20154 Milano.

I'd be tempted to class Milan's Cimitero Monumentale as more of an open-air sculpture exhibition than a final resting place, such is the extent of its architectural wonders. The entrance to grounds is marked by a huge memorial chapel called the Famedio, where names of Milan's most famous historical figures lie set in marble across the towering walls of the interior hall. Right in the centre sits the tomb of novelist Alessandro Manzoni, who is widely considered to be the architect of the modern Italian language.

Famedio Blue-Gold Ceiling

Famedio Ceiling | Photo Credit: Matteo.

Before passing into the main graveyard look up and take a moment to admire the Famedio's beautiful blue and gold ceiling.

A couple of highlights I'd strongly recommend looking out for while exploring grounds are: the sculpted recreation of the Last Supper, the funerary shrines shaped like Nubian Pyramids, and the homage to Rome's Trajan's Column. There's no way to properly describe each and every piece of art in the Cimitero Monumentale, but suffice to say it's an attraction that won't disappoint.

Cementerio Monumentale Milan

Getting to the cemetery is very straightforward; we'd recommend taking Milan Metro Line 5 to Monumentale underground station, which is located right in front of the Famedio. Alternatively, disembark the City Sightseeing Milan tour at stop 4 (blue route) and take a short walk to the front entrance.

3) Arlington National Cemetery:

  • Where? Arlington, VA 22211.

In contrast to first two cemeteries Arlington is a place that plays a very active and poignant role in the remembrance of a nation's war dead. Its iconic rows of little white gravestones remain one of the world's most recognisable testaments to the cost of modern day international conflicts. Even if you're not a US citizen I'd argue that on the grounds of sheer scale and presentation, Arlington is a sight that everyone should experience at least once.

Arlington Cemetery, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

If you're visiting Washington D.C. reserve an hour or two and cross the Potomac River into Arlington County, Virginia. The city's Big Bus sightseeing tour can deliver you right outside the main Memorial Amphitheater. From here it's a simple matter of embarking on-foot and discovering the 624 acre site's fascinating testaments. Why not pay a respectful visit to the Tomb of the Unknowns, see the gravesite of John F. Kennedy, and watch the hourly Changing of the Guard.

4) Père Lachaise Cemetery:

  • Where? 16 Rue du Repos, 75020 Paris.

The Cimetière du Père-Lachaise in Paris' eastern suburbs is almost like a who's who list in the Land of the Dead. Amongst the millions of interred persons are famous literary figures, musicians, spots people, scientists and more. It's perhaps most famous for being the burial place of The Doors frontman Jim Morrison, whose ambiguously marked grave attracts thousands of rock pilgrims each year.

But Jim's not the only tourism draw by a long shot. Many visitors arrive to see the tomb of Irish author Oscar Wilde, the grave of Polish composer Frédéric Chopin and the bust of pioneering French filmmaker Georges Méliès.

Père Lachaise Cemetery Paris Chopin Tomb

5) Old Jewish Cemetery:

  • Where? Široká, 110 00 Praha.

Prague's Old Jewish Cemetery is the oldest burial site on this list, having been founded around the turn of the 15-century. It lies at the heart of the capital's ancient Jewish Quarter, a district otherwise know as Josefov. Age and religious composition is not the only thing that sets the Old Jewish Cemetery apart from the other four. What's most striking about the place, I'd say, is how densely packed it is.

Old Jewish Cemetery Prague

Like most Jewish enclaves throughout Europe's history Prague's Jews were set apart from the rest of society and not exactly given a lot of space to live in. The results of this confinement are glaringly obvious in the grounds of the Jewish cemetery, where thousands of weather-worn gravestones lie in jaunty, disarrayed heaps. It's a place that's both fairly eerie and strangely beautiful at the same time. Keep an eye out for the grave of Rabbi Jehuda Loew Ben Bezalel, a central figure in the famous legend of the Prague Golem.

You'll have noticed that throughout this list I've been recommending relevant tours, well this one for Prague includes an insightful Jewish Quarter walking tour - the perfect way to discover the Old Jewish Cemetery for yourself.

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