Zagreb Cemeteries – The Silent Beauty of Memories
October and November are months with a special tradition, during which the people of Zagreb visit the cemeteries to pay their respect to the dead. The tradition peaks on 1 November, on the All Saints holiday, more commonly called Sisvete. If you want to experience an unforgettable sight, pay a visit to the cemeteries like Mirogoj or the nearby Grove of Urns just a few days after the holiday. The cemeteries will still be full of colorful flowers and lanterns but with fewer people. Autumn is the right time to remind ourselves that city cemeteries are exceptional places worth visiting and admiring even without a specific reason.
It was not until the end of the 19th century that the newer and larger central Mirogoj cemetery replaced the smaller cemeteries scattered throughout Zagreb. One of the greatest monuments of Zagreb architecture, and today an unavoidable attraction is the life's work of Herman Bollé. Many graves there are the work of the greatest Croatian sculptors, and the magnificent arcades are the final resting place of numerous great people of Croatia. If you are interested in Croatian culture and history, Mirogoj can teach you a great deal about it. Herman Bollé also designed the Catholic Church of Christ the King and the Orthodox Chapel of St. Peter and Paul, because Mirogoj has always been a place where all religions were equally represented. Apart from being a monument of majestic architectural artistry, the cemetery complex is also an impressive horticultural ensemble so we can view it as a park of subtle and sophisticated beauty. A walk through the serene environment of Mirogoj is a calming experience, with each visit giving us some new details.
Over time, other burial sites were built or expanded, the largest of which is Miroševac, followed by Markovo polje in Sesvete and about twenty other smaller, local cemeteries. Most of them have a long history and were originally located next to the church during the time when the areas of their location were just rural suburbs. Next to Mirogoj is the Crematorium with The Cove of Urns, opened for public in 1985. It is the first and, so far, the only such facility in Croatia. At its center is a colossal cenotaph with an eternal flame, a memorial to the unidentified victims of the Croatian War of Independence. A modern sculpture about the transience of life in a field for scattering ashes called Sunčana poljana (Sunshine Meadow) is also an impressive part of the cemetery.
Amongst the other non-functioning gravesites worth visiting, a romantic, yet eerie corner of the Upper Town stands out – the St. George's Cemetery. Forgotten and dormant, it was once the largest cemetery in the city. It is mentioned as early as the 17th century, and although it was originally used to bury the poor, it later became a temporary resting place for some historically important people, such as Ljudevit Gaj or the July victims. Today it is a secluded park with ancient tombstones as the only memento of its old glory. The abandoned cemetery in Donje Vrapče, a hidden park surrounded by family houses and residential buildings, also has an unusual past. The cemetery was opened at the beginning of the 20th century for the patients of the Vrapče Psychiatric Hospital who had no close relatives. This is why there are no documented traces of the first deceased. Over time, hospital staff and the surrounding population were buried there as well. Left to oblivion with mostly destroyed inscriptions and monuments, the so-called Asylum Cemetery does not reveal much, but it certainly tickles the imagination of passers-by.