Cemeteries are one of the most impressive reflexes of an historic moment in a certain culture. Therefore, it is rather understandable why southern Europe cemeteries present features that cannot be easily found in Great Britain cemeteries, for example. However, if we look closer to Portuguese cemeteries, we can easily distinguish it from the Spanish, the French or even from the Italian ones.

Francisco Queiroz

Dabrowka Stepniewska


The rainy and gloomy November especially encourages to do some reflection and meditation on the transience, the death and the fragility of human life. This is the best time for remembering the dead and visiting cemeteries. The Western world celebrates in this particular time of the year the Halloween, the All Saints’ Day, the All Souls’ Day from 31st October to 2nd November. At that time cemeteries are illuminated by thousands of candles and sunk in flowers, like in Poland. However, during the rest part of the year the final resting places are usually empty.

In the last week of October this year I visited the famous Prazeres Cemetery in Lisbon, just before the upcoming holidays. Portuguese transport has switched already to the winter timetable, but the temperature was still high (ca. 27-29 degrees Celsius) and the sun was shining beautifully. So there was not a bit of the so called “November atmosphere” which I described above. It was completely different, in fact. The Prazeres Cemetery was almost empty. I saw only a few tourists and I met two old ladies, who were taking care of the graves of their dead spouses. We had some conversation  and frankly they complained a bit that since the cemetery has become a monument the cost of upkeeping the graves increased significantly.
I walked around the cemetery around 1.5 hours and I really felt myself like visiting a ghost town, a city of the dead. The plan of the streets, squares, monuments, mausoleums, chapels and avenues with the houses of the dead corresponds 1:1 to the normal city plan, a living city. Nevertheless, the net curtains in the tombs’ windows looked a little spooky and caused me a bit of an unpleasant shudder. And the coffins visible directly through the glass… This is not a daily view, even at a cemetery. Modernly, we are more accustomed to burying the coffin with the body in the ground or to a discrete cremation rather then exposure of coffins with corpses. A certain order of things had been infringed and that was probably the reason why I felt a bit strange and slightly uncomfortable.
Beyond the beautiful nineteenth century romantic architecture and the scenic location, the Prazeres Cemetery is also well known from the oldest and largest concentration of the cypresses on the Iberian Peninsula. These long-lived trees bring incredible peace and dignity by their presence and are the characteristic elements of this landscape. And the cats are the only living inhabitants of the Prazeres Cemetery, I suppose. They behaved very calmly and very freely, so you could conjecture that the cemetery is probably their living environment, their home. It is significant that the more we move to the south of Europe, the greater dominance of the cats in the cities we observe. Sometimes they took such a pose that they looked like a guardians, absolutely focused and concentrated. Just like the mythical Cerberus,  guarding the entrance to the underworld…
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The Prazeres Cemetery was originally created to handle the thousands of victims of the cholera epidemic in 1833-34.  By 1839, wealthier families began to build monuments.  Several hundred tombs were build between 1839 and1850 alone.  Many important names figures of Portuguese arts and politics are buried here.  The Prazeres Cemetery became the model for most cemeteries in the center and south of Portugal, and is the most cosmopolitan cemetery still existing in the nation.

Before the grounds were converted into a cemetery, it was a collective of farms by the name of Quinta dos Prazeres in which you could find gardens, vineyards and orchards. It’s location, with a beutiful view of the Tejo river, was noble indeed, positioned near Dom Pedro II’s Royal Palace in Alcântara and the other royal parties.

In the XVI century the farm was converted into a refuge for people suffering diseases like smallpox, the plague and yellow fever. Eventually, thanks to the the cholera morbus epidemic in the 1830s, the whole area was designated as a final resting place for the local aristocracy. It was run by the nuns from the Convento de Boa Morte (Good Death Convent) until 1834.

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References:

http://portugalconfidential.com/10-intriguing-cemeteries-of-portugal/

http://www.cm-lisboa.pt/en/equipments/equipment/info/cemiterio-dos-prazeres

http://www.cm-lisboa.pt/equipamentos/equipamento/info/museu-cemiterio-dos-prazeres

http://www.ucityguides.com/cities/10-famous-cemeteries.html

http://www.atlaslisboa.com/cemiterio-dos-prazeres/

http://queirozportela.com/cemetpo.htm

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