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In Search of Cemeteries Alive With Beauty, Art, and History

These resting places celebrate life.

<em>The Kiss of Death</em>, designed by Joan Fonternat and carved by Jaume Barba in 1930, in Barcelona’s Poblenau Cemetery. It marks the grave of textile manufacturer Josep Llaudet Soler.
The Kiss of Death, designed by Joan Fonternat and carved by Jaume Barba in 1930, in Barcelona’s Poblenau Cemetery. It marks the grave of textile manufacturer Josep Llaudet Soler. Shutterstock

Despite its irreverent title, the new book 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die is quite specific about appropriate behavior in graveyards. “Rule number one is be respectful,” Loren Rhoads writes. “Even cemeteries that are closed to new burials deserve to be treated like something precious and irreplaceable, because they are.”

Cemeteries are, by their nature, full of stories, which is what Rhoads wanted to tap into when creating the book. “Our relationships with the places we visit can be deepened and enriched by learning the stories of those who came—and stayed—before us,” she writes.

Reilig Odhrán is a graveyard on the Isle of Iona in Scotland's Inner Hebrides. In the 16th century, the site was determined to have held 48 Scottish, eight Norwegian, and four Irish kings.
Reilig Odhrán is a graveyard on the Isle of Iona in Scotland’s Inner Hebrides. In the 16th century, the site was determined to have held 48 Scottish, eight Norwegian, and four Irish kings. Shutterstock

The book spans burial sites across the globe and through the ages. In the remote Scottish Hebrides, at Reilig Odhrán on the Isle of Iona, ancient, worn gravestones mark the resting places of Irish, Scottish, and Norwegian kings. Argentinian First Lady Eva Perón is buried in La Recoleta, a cemetery in Buenos Aires. In Iran, the grave of 12th-century mathematician and writer Omar Khayyám is marked with a towering, geometric 20th-century monument.

The book doesn’t just focus on the resting places of famous figures. Some are there for beauty alone. Barcelona’s Poblenau Cemetery contains a sculpture of young man, collapsed to his knees, in the tender embrace of a winged skeleton. Known as The Kiss of Death, it is both beautiful and unsettling—both work of art and memorial. Sydney’s Waverley Cemetery sprawls across 40 acres of oceanfront land, where headstones and monuments tumble towards the water. And in Romania’s Merry Cemetery, bright blue grave markers hold paintings of the deceased. These markers both create an atmosphere and hold important symbols.

Cemeteries are monuments to death, but also sites of contemplation and appreciation of life. “There’s nothing like visiting a cemetery to give you a little perspective,” writes Rhoads. Atlas Obscura has a selection of images from the book, which will be released on October 3.

Markers in Merry Cemetery in Romania include poems about the deceased.
Markers in Merry Cemetery in Romania include poems about the deceased. Shutterstock
Omar Khayyám's tomb complex in Nishapur, Iran, where he died, was designed by architect Houshang Seyhoun in 1963.
Omar Khayyám’s tomb complex in Nishapur, Iran, where he died, was designed by architect Houshang Seyhoun in 1963. Shutterstock
Waverley Cemetery, New South Wales, Australia, holds the graves of many notable Australians.
Waverley Cemetery, New South Wales, Australia, holds the graves of many notable Australians. Shutterstock
Angelus Rosedale Cemetery, Los Angeles, is the resting place of Hattie McDaniel, the first African-American actress to win an Oscar. Her original wish, to be buried at the Hollywood Memorial Cemetery, was denied because at the time of her death in 1952, it was segregated.
Angelus Rosedale Cemetery, Los Angeles, is the resting place of Hattie McDaniel, the first African-American actress to win an Oscar. Her original wish, to be buried at the Hollywood Memorial Cemetery, was denied because at the time of her death in 1952, it was segregated. Library of Congress/ Carol Highsmith
<em>Il Cimitero Acattolico di Roma</em> is the "Non-Catholic" cemetery of Rome, Italy. Prior to 1738, the Vatican prohibited people who were not Catholic from being buried in the city.
Il Cimitero Acattolico di Roma is the “Non-Catholic” cemetery of Rome, Italy. Prior to 1738, the Vatican prohibited people who were not Catholic from being buried in the city. Shutterstock
<em>Kungshögarna</em>, the Royal Mounds in Gamla Uppsala, Sweden.
Kungshögarna, the Royal Mounds in Gamla Uppsala, Sweden. Shutterstock
The Sengakuji Buddhist temple complex in Tokyo, Japan, is where the famous 47 Ronin are buried.
The Sengakuji Buddhist temple complex in Tokyo, Japan, is where the famous 47 Ronin are buried. Shutterstock
La Recoleta, Buenos Aires, Argentina.
La Recoleta, Buenos Aires, Argentina. Shuttertstock
Highgate Cemetery, London, holds the grave of Karl Marx, among other famous figures.
Highgate Cemetery, London, holds the grave of Karl Marx, among other famous figures. Shutterstock
The cover of <em>199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die</em>.
The cover of 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die.