The tombs at Cimetiere du Pere Lachaise each have their own unique design. // © 2017 Creative Commons user Emile Lombard
Feature image (above): Most of the headstones at Merry Cemetery were carved by hand and painted by the same man for 40 years. // © 2017 Creative Commons user Marian Gabriel Constantin
Tropical beaches, beautiful landscapes and historical landmarks are typically what’s on the list of things to see while on vacation. Perhaps the last thing that’ll come to mind is a jaunt through a city cemetery. Who wants to be around death when they’re trying to relax?
In reality, however, cemeteries are a great representation of a place’s history. The larger cemeteries, especially, can be home to many of the city’s important figures and even its best architecture.
The following cemeteries offer a glimpse into the city’s past and portray intricate designs that make them as enjoyable as outdoor art museums.
Opened in 1872, this was Tokyo’s first municipal cemetery and is one of the only cemeteries in the city that has a section with foreign burials. Many of those buried in the foreign section are Europeans and Americans who were brought in during the late 1800s to help modernize Japan, from scientists to missionaries and teachers.
The cemetery serves as a final resting place for important figures in Japanese history, including diplomats and novelists. The famous and ever-loyal Hachiko is also buried here next to his master; he is the only dog at Aoyama. Visitors and locals alike are known to have picnics at this cemetery during springtime, when cherry blossom trees are in bloom.
Aoyama Cemetery is open 24 hours a day, and admission is free.
Cimetiere du Pere Lachaise
The list of notable people buried at this Parisian resting place is a lengthy one, ranging from classical composer Frederic Chopin to American novelist Gertrude Stein and rock-and-roll musician Jim Morrison. It is the largest cemetery located within the city of Paris, and with a total of more than 3 million visitors a year, it is also the most visited in the world.
A simple headstone isn’t the norm at this cemetery, as each grave has its own distinct design. Some may include busts of the departed, while others have their own statues towering over their gravesite. Writer Oscar Wilde’s tomb, for example, is a sphinx carved out of a 20-ton block of wood — it took nearly a year to complete.
The hours for Cimetiere du Pere Lachaise vary depending on the month and the day, but typical hours are between 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and admission is free. Visitors can pick up a map at the front office to go on their own, or they can attend a guided tour offered on the weekends.
La Recoleta Cemetery
With La Recoleta Cemetery’s seemingly never-ending maze of streets, it can be easy to spend hours at a time wandering through this Buenos Aires graveyard. Because large mausoleums that on each side of the cemetery resemble small homes, visitors might feel as though they’re walking through a small town. Each of the 6,400-plus mausoleums features their own individual style, drawing inspiration from Gothic chapels and Greek temples.
Perhaps one of the most famous people buried here is Eva Peron, former first lady of Argentina, an overall beloved political figure in the country and the subject of the Broadway musical “Evita.” Although she passed away in 1952, her body was not buried at the cemetery until 1974, since it went missing and was ultimately found in Italy years later.
La Recoleta Cemetery is open every day from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., and admission is free. Free tours in Spanish are offered from Tuesday to Friday at 11 a.m.
Merry Cemetery, Romania
At this Romanian Cemetery, all of the tombstones are painted bright blue, along with other vibrant colors, hand-carved pictures and clever epithets. But it’s not all merry here: If clients takes a closer look at each headstone, they may find that the different drawings and words etched onto the tombstones are darker than expected.
For example, one picture depicts a townsperson getting hit by a truck (which is how he passed), while one message written by a local man pleads that his mother-in-law should not be woken up for fear of her biting off his head.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about this cemetery is that each of the headstones were hand painted and carved by a single man, Stan Ioan Patras. He continued to do so until his death in 1977, completing more than 800 headstones over a period of 40 years. Dumitru Pop, his apprentice, has now turned it into a workshop and museum.
The Merry Cemetery is open year-round, and admission is free.
St. Louis Cemetery No. 1
There are three Saint Louis Cemeteries throughout New Orleans, but the first one is the oldest and perhaps the most famous. Opened in 1789, the cemetery spans just one square block and is home to thousands of graves. Many of the graves in the cemetery are above ground vaults, as the city is prone to flooding. Many of the city’s important figures are buried here, including notorious Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau. Actor Nicolas Cage has already purchased his grave at the cemetery, a 9-foot-tall stone pyramid with no name on it yet.
Due to growing claims of vandalism, the Roman Catholic Diocese of New Orleans closed the cemetery to the general public in 2015. In order to enter, visitors must be accompanied by a licensed tour operator.