Cemeteries

I visited le Cimetière du Père-Lachaise on a rainy winter day in 2007. I was moved by this experience. The romantic atmosphere, weathered look of old gravestones and statues, and impressive array of ornate, ostentatious tombs made me want to explore historic cemeteries all over the globe. Cemeteries chronicle the history of cities and towns, while gravestones and inscriptions can reflect customs of a given era and provide touching glimpses into how people lived, what they valued, and how they were thought of by others. Many people consider cemeteries to be macabre, but for me, a cemetery is a place of contemplation. It is where I feel the most peaceful and in touch with my own mortality. I became increasingly fascinated by how different cultures and religions perceive and handle death after I visited Varanasi, the world’s largest crematorium where bodies are burned out in the open. Encountering death so frankly was another powerful reminder of why I should live life fully. It is death that gives life meaning. In the West, death is a taboo subject that is rarely discussed, a hard boundary that cannot be transgressed, a distressing reminder of the inevitable. However, many cultures celebrate death, instead of being afraid or in denial of it, and maintain a soft border between the living and the dead. For example, in Bolivia, a skull ritual is performed every year and in Indonesia, dead family members are mummified and kept at home. The images in this gallery depict the colorful Chichicastenango Cemetery, the victorian Highgate Cemetery where nature has reclaimed human constructions, the above-ground tombs of New Orleans, cemeteries with the finest funerary architecture in Florence and Venice, Muslim cemeteries in Istanbul and Jerusalem, Jewish cemeteries in Marrakech and Kerala, an ancient Jewish Necropolis in Beit She'arim containing more than 30 burial cave systems, Japanese and Cambodian cemeteries, tombs with human skeletons in the rock-cut churches in Cappadocia, and naturally mummified bodies in the crypt of a monastery school in Mexico City. I have yet to visit some of the magnificent church ossuaries and burial catacombs in Europe that art historian, Dr. Koudounaris has photographed.