Benjamin Franklin once wrote in a letter to a friend: “in the world nothing can be said to be certain except death [and taxes].” When the inevitable happens, funeral rites, rituals, and ceremonies must be undertaken. Funeral customs are as old as civilization itself, and they vary from region to region.
In many cultures and religions, cemeteries (from the Greek koimeterion or Latin coemeterium, meaning sleeping place) are used for death ceremonies, burial, mourning, and memorial. Unusual or historical cemeteries have also become popular tourist attractions- cemetery tourism, the ‘dark’ side of tourism, is a growing phenomenon around the world.
Here is my list of top 10 unusual and most visited cemeteries:
10. World’s First Public Pet Cemetery
Cimetiere Des Chiens
Cimetiere des Chiens, a cemetery for dogs and other domestic animals, is said to be the world’s oldest public pet cemetery. It is located in Asnières-sur-Seine, a commune in the northwestern suburbs of Paris, France. Opened in 1899, Cimetiere des Chiens was a response to a French law stating that pet owners are not allowed to dump the dead bodies of their animals in the garbage or the Seine River. The most famous gravestone belongs to Rin Tin Tin, the legendary American dog that starred in various Hollywood movies.
9. Highway to Hell?
Located in Kansas, this cemetery has gained the reputation as one of the world’s most haunted cemeteries. Some people even consider it to be one of the seven gateways to Hell. There are so many legends, stories of witchcraft, ghosts and supernatural happenings surrounding it that even Pope John Paul II allegedly ordered his private jet not to fly over Stull while he was on the way to a public appearance in Colorado in 1995. The Pope considered Stull “unholy ground”.
But just how terrifying is this place? There aren’t many places as controversial as Stull Cemetery. My favorite tale is that the devil’s only half-human son is buried there with his mother. Perhaps that’s why the devil himself has been visiting the Stull Cemetery at least once (some legends report twice) a year since 1850. However, Tracy Morris, author of the Tranquility series of paranormal humor mysteries, asks a legitimate question: “Presumably, Mrs. Lucifer and little Luci Jr. would go to hell upon death, where the Prince of Darkness reigns supreme. So if they’re in hell with him, why visit their graves at all? Maybe he just wants a vacation.”
8. Take a Gander at the Winchester Geese
Cross Bones Graveyard
Cross Bones Graveyard, traditionally called the Single Women’s Graveyard, dates back to medieval times. It was the final resting place for prostitutes (locally known as the Winchester Geese) working in London’s legalized brothels. Multicolor ribbons, charms, flowers, feathers, poems, pictures, and silk stockings decorate the iron fence of the graveyard.
Tudor historian John Stow wrote in his 1603 Survey Of London: “These single women were forbidden the rites of the church, so long as they continued that sinful life, and were excluded from Christian burial, if they were not reconciled before their death. And therefore there was a plot of ground called the Single Woman’s churchyard, appointed for them far from the parish church.”
7. Natural Mummies from Mother Nature
Le Mummie di Urbania
La Chiesa dei Morti, The Church of the Dead, is located in Urbania in Italy. Inside lies the Cemetery of the Mummies, which was built in 1833. This cemetery is famous for its strange phenomenon of natural mummification. According to specialists, the process is caused by a particular mold that has absorbed moisture from the corpses leading to the complete desiccation of the bodies.
6. The Mafia Cemetery
In the 1990s, Yekaterinburg was known as ‘The crime capital of Russia.’ Many of the leaders of the Russian Mafia lived there and Shirokorechenskoe Cemetery was the final resting place for many of them. Very expensive tombs, black marble, precious stones, laser-engraved images and life-size granite gravestones are common here. The nicknames of the deceased mobsters are engraved along with some of the things they were known for: He was an expert in using knifes.
5. The World’s First Underwater Cemetery
Neptune Memorial Reef
The Neptune Memorial Reef (also known as the Atlantis Memorial Reef or the Atlantis Reef) is the world’s first underwater mausoleum for cremated remains and the world’s largest man-made reef. Opened in 2007, off the coast of Miami Beach, the Neptune Memorial Reef is the perfect final resting place for those who loved the sea.
4. The Merry Cemetery
Cemeteries are often sad places, but they can also be amusing and entertaining. Sapanta, in Northern Romania, is worldwide famous for its Merry Cemetery, a UNESCO World Heritage site. What is so unusual about this cemetery? Well, to begin with, the atypical design of the tombstones, which are painted by hand in vivid colors, such as red, blue, green, and yellow. The tombstones are big crosses sculpted from oak wood, engraved with funny epitaphs briefly describing the life or the circumstances in which these persons passed away:
Under this heavy cross
Lies my poor mother in law.
If she had lived three more days,
I would be lying here and she would be reading.
Burn in hell, you damn taxi
That came from Sibiu!
As large as Romania is,
You couldn’t find another place to stop,
But in front of my house to kill me?
Sapanta is a unique cemetery and a major touristic attraction. The man behind this concept is Romanian craftsman Ioan Stan Patras, who started sculpting the crosses in 1935. The ancient culture of the Dacians, the Romanian’s ancestors, viewed death as liberation and the soul as immortal. Sapanta preserves this positive attitude towards death and welcomes it with a smile.
3. How Do I Bury Thee, Let Me Count the Ways…
The Bridge to Paradise – Xcaret’s one-of-a-kind cemetery
The Bridge to Paradise, in the Xcaret Nature and Cultural Park, is quite an intriguing Mexican cemetery. Its structure is based on the Gregorian calendar: the cemetery simulates a hill with seven levels representing the days of the week and 365 colorful tombs on the outside depicting the days of the year. The main entrance is a stairway with 52 steps that represent the weeks of the year.
Each grave is different from the others in design and building materials. One might look like a replica of a famous cathedral, while the next one looks like a sofa or a bed with headboard and pillows.
2. Mysterious Hanging Coffins of China
Wuyi Mountain, Fujian Province
Hanging coffins is an ancient funeral custom found only in Asia: there are hanging coffins in China, the Philippines, and Indonesia. Some coffins are cantilevered out on wooden stakes, while some lay on rock projections. Other coffins are simply placed in caves.
The hanging coffins of the Bo people in Gongxian, Sichuan Province, the Guyue people of Dragon Tiger Mountain and the Guyue people of Wuyi Mountain are the most famous. The Wuyi Mountain coffins are the oldest; some are more than 3,750 years old.
As bizarre as it may seem, it makes sense. Why bury a coffin three meters under the ground, if you want to go to heaven?
1. Ancient Egyptian Burial Grounds
The Cemeteries of Giza and the Valley of the Kings
The Giza Plateau, the site of the mysterious Great Pyramid, the Sphinx and thousands of tombs, has attracted more tourists, archeologists, historians, scientists and mathematicians than any other. The Great Pyramid (Pyramid of Khufu or Pyramid of Cheops) is the oldest and biggest. One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, it houses the body of Pharaoh Khufu and was built with more than 2 million stones over a period of 20 years. The complex and elaborate funeral customs of ancient Egyptians were believed to ensure immortality in the afterlife.
The Valley of the Kings, a World Heritage Site, is known to contain more than 60 tombs and 120 chambers. It was the main burial place of the major royal figures of the Egyptian New Kingdom. The fascinating tombs of Egyptian pharaohs are still being discovered to this day.