Tag: Cemeteries

Inside Père Lachaise: The Most Interesting Cemetery in Paris

Inside Père Lachaise: The Most Interesting Cemetery in Paris

If you’ve been a Travel As Much reader for any length of time at all, you know I have a long-standing fascination with and love of old cemeteries. So when I booked my trip to Paris, I knew visiting an old cemetery would definitely be one of my stops. I did a little research and discovered three big cemeteries from which to choose: Montmartre, Montparnasse, and Père Lachaise. Reading up on all three, it seemed that Père Lachaise was the biggest and the most interesting cemetery in Paris.

How Big Is It?

Rick Steves devotes several pages, a map, and a guided walking tour of Père Lachaise in his 2019 Paris Guidebook. I followed the walking tour dutifully for the first ten minutes or so, then managed to get lost. That was no fault of Rick’s – I am directionally challenged, not very good at reading maps, and often struggle with losing my bearings. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t find my way back to his neatly planned route. I decided to throw caution to the wind and just wing it.

Whether I’d been able to stay on the Rick Steves route or not, there is no possible way I could have seen everything in Père Lachaise in just one day. The cemetery covers 110 acres, and contains 70,000 burial plots with over 1 million bodies. That means there are roughly twice as many dead people in this cemetery than there are living people in Miami, Florida!

I tried to take some photos that accurately depict just how massive this cemetery is. The best I managed was this shot:

If you zoom in on the angel’s feet and look at the graves behind her, you will see that they stretch back at least 10 rows! This one photograph probably has about 75 graves in it, perhaps even more.

As the biggest, most interesting cemetery in Paris, Père Lachaise sees about 3.5 million visitors every year. It is the most visited cemetery in the world.

The History

According to Wikipedia, when Père Lachaise opened in 1804 it was not a very popular place to bury your loved ones. Roman Catholics did not wish to bury their dead at Père Lachaise because the site had not received an official blessing by their church. Others felt that it was too far away from the center of the city. In fact, it was such an unpopular choice that in its first year of operation, only 13 people were buried there.

The powers that be came up with a marketing plan to make burial at Père Lachaise seem more desirable. They had the remains of the popular poet Jean de la Fontaine and playwright/actor Molière transferred to the cemetery. That year, the burial numbers rose from 13 to 44.

Business continued to increase over the years and, in 1817, they tried a similar marketing stunt. This time they moved the 12th century philosopher Pierre Abélard and also Héloïse, the nun with whom he allegedly had an affair. Once again, the status of having one’s final resting place in the same cemetery as someone famous held great allure for Parisians. By 1830, the cemetery contained more than 33,000 graves and needed to be expanded. Today, the cemetery restricts who may be buried there (you must have either lived or died in Paris) and they even have a waiting list.

What Makes it the Most Interesting Cemetery in Paris?

The Graves of Famous People

One of the reasons Père Lachaise gets so many visitors is that some notable people are buried there. For Americans, the most famous is probably Jim Morrison, lead singer of the iconic 1960s/1970s band, The Doors. I’m not a fan, and as I’ve mentioned, I was hopelessly lost, so it wasn’t on my must-see list. I did, however, manage to find the grave of Marcel Proust, French author from the early 29th century. (Confession: I only found this because I saw someone else taking a photo and I was nosy enough to go see why they were taking a picture of an otherwise unremarkable grave.)

Other famous people buried at Père Lachaise include: playwright Oscar Wilde, composer Chopin, singer Edith Piaf, and the world’s most (only?) famous mime, Marcel Marceau. However, the casual visitor would overlook most of these. Like Marcel Proust’s grave, they are not overly ornate. I preferred to wander and look for more unusual and/or impressive gravesites rather than focusing on the people who occupied them.

Unusual Graves

Père Lachaise is full of unique graves and funerary art the likes of which I have never seen before. For instance:

Theodore Gericault’s grave was a fitting tribute for an artist. He lounges above a depiction of his best painting, The Raft of the Medusa, a paintbrush in one hand and a palette in the other.

I don’t know who this person was in life, nor do I know why he has a little man standing on the palm of his hand. If you know, please leave a comment and solve the mystery for me!

This massive chimney-like structure standing so much taller than all of the graves & vaults had me thinking it was the Crematorium, but it’s actually a grave marker, believe it or not. It belongs to one Felix de Beaujour. He was the French diplomat to the United States in the early nineteenth century.

Creepy Graves

I don’t know who she was in life, but she was definitely the creepiest thing I saw in Père Lachaise. The mystery here is whether her eyes are supposed to stare through the living, or if it’s just a coincidental streak in the patina. Either way, I almost didn’t want to turn my back on her.

Georges Rodenbach’s grave wins runner up for creepiest bit of funerary art in Père Lachaise. It reminds me just a little too much of a vampire coming out of his coffin once the sun has set. Yikes.

Graves Depicting Grief

Occasionally when touring a cemetery, I find gravesites that just overwhelm me with a sense of profound grief. For instance:

The person depicted by this statue slumps forward, face buried in her hands. I could almost see her shoulders shaking as she sobbed over her loss.

This statue atop a family grave touched me as well. A mourner leans over the body of the deceased, preparing (I suppose) to lay a wreath of flowers on her head.

And, at other times, a grave can be a symbol of the deceased’s grief for the ones they left behind.

Neglected/Overgrown Graves

As with any old cemetery, there are graves belonging to families who are no longer around. These graves eventually fall into disrepair and nature tries to reclaim them. I think they’re interesting because they show that, no matter how much you want the world to remember you, you may end up forgotten after all. (Is that too morbid?)

Thankfully, though, some people dedicate themselves to maintaining lovely old cemeteries like Père Lachaise. I stumbled upon one such group, spending their Saturday tidying up a plot.

The Most Interesting Cemetery in Paris

In summary, Père Lachaise is a fascinating place with amazing art, peaceful walkways, and just a touch of creepiness thrown in for good measure. If you enjoy touring old cemeteries, you should definitely check it out the next time you’re in Paris.

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My Scotland Bucket List

My Scotland Bucket List

Scotland Top Ten

Last week, someone on Quora asked me what places I would visit in Scotland if there were no restrictions on how long I could be there or how much money I could spend.  I came up with a list so fast, I started thinking maybe Scotland needs to be at the top of my “Places I Need to Go” list.  And what’s not to love about a country whose national animal is the unicorn? Here’s my Scotland Top Ten list:

1. Dunvegan Castle on the Isle of Skye

Okay, if I had to pick just one area instead of ten, the Isle of Skye would probably be it. There’s just something about a sparsely populated island that I find intriguing. Maybe it’s the unspoiled landscapes, maybe it’s the chance to have a large area to yourself for a while, maybe it’s the feeling that your place in the universe isn’t so tiny and inconsequential after all. Whatever it is, I can’t get enough of islands like that, and Skye is especially beautiful.

Scotland Top Ten: Dunvegan Castle looks out over the water.Image via Flickr by Bea y Fredi

Dunvegan Castle covers ten different building periods from 1200 to the 1850s. It consists of a series of five separate buildings, each with its own unique character and story to tell. The remote setting of the castle, coupled with its backdrop of sky, mountains and sea, make it a must-see.

Visitors may see one of the castle’s most cherished heirlooms of clan MacLeod – the Fairy Flag. The exact origins have been lost in time, but most say that the flag was given to an ancient clan chieftain by the fairies. Stories of how the flag has brought luck to the family are legendary, dating from before the 15th century up through World War II. It has been credited with the ability to:

  1. multiply a clan’s military forces
  2. save the lives of certain clanfolk
  3. cure a plague on cattle
  4. increase the chances of fertility
  5. bring herring into the loch at Dunvegan.

The fabric of the flag is silk; specifically silk from the Far East. Some theories hold that the flag was brought home by a clansman who had fought in the Crusades. Today, the flag is in very fragile condition but can be seen in the drawing room of Dunvegan Castle.

2. Fairy Pools on the Isle of Skye

Scotland Top Ten: Fairy Pools on the Isle of Skye are truly magical places.
Image via Flickr by evocateur.

Who hasn’t seen these amazing images of fairy pools on Pinterest or Instagram? Well, the good news is that they are FOR REAL and fairly accessible. To get there, you will need to hike through the Glen Brittle forest. The water flows between pools with waterfalls of various shapes and sizes. Idyllic!  On a sunny day, the turquoise waters of the natural pools are so clear, it’s easy to see the stones at the bottom. After a good rain, the water rushes along at a brisk pace. Visitors could attempt to swim in the fairy pools, but most accounts say that the water is quite cold.

3. Culloden, in the Highlands

I have Diana Gabaldon to thank for my semi-obsessive fascination with the Scottish Highlands. It’s difficult to resist the temptation to travel there once you’ve read her Outlander series of books or seen the associated television show.  The landscape has contrasting qualities that make it mysteriously enticing… at once beautiful and brutal, welcoming and harsh, refined and barbaric.

Scotland Top Ten: The battlefield at Culloden is a must for anyone interested in Scottish history.
Image via Flickr by nicksarebi

On 16 April 1746, the final Jacobite Rising came to a head in one of the bloodiest battles in British history… the battle of Culloden. Jacobite supporters, seeking to restore the Stuart monarchy to the British thrones, gathered to fight the Duke of Cumberland’s troops. In less than an hour, around 1,500 men were slain – more than 1,000 of them Jacobites.

The Culloden Visitor Centre beside the battlefield featuers artifacts from both sides of the battle and interactive displays that reveal the background to the conflict. It’s worth noting that this site commemorates a tragic event in Scottish history – one that changed Scotland forever. Visitors should keep that in mind by maintaining a solemn and respectful manner when at the site.

4. The Enchanted Forest event near Pitlochry, Perthshire

Scotland Top Ten: The woods come to life at the Enchanted Forest event in Pitlochry
Image via Flickr by J McSporran

Described as a premier sound and light event, the Enchanted Forest has won many awards in the UK. Last year, the show was sold out with 73,000 attendees. This year they are selling 80,000 tickets and will likely sell out again.

Each year the festival has a theme, and partners with local charities to benefit from the income it generates. It runs for about a month in the fall, and takes place in the evening. Visitors walk through Faskally Wood, which is transformed into a magical place by music, colorful lighting, and interactive special effects. You can expect to spend 60-90 minutes enjoying the show, but are welcome to stay longer if you would like.

5. Dunottar Castle Ruins, Aberdeenshire

Scotland Top Ten: Dunottar Castle sits in ruins on a clifftop in northeastern Scotland.
Photo by John Roberts on Unsplash

The castle is in ruins, but it’s so dramatic and romantic I still feel a need to see it in person. The oldest part of Dunnottar Castle still standing is the late 14th century keep. However, a chapel and other fortifications stood on the site at least 100 years earlier than that. We know this because in 1296 Scottish hero William Wallace killed an entire English garrison inside the castle with only a handful of men.

One of Dunnottar’s other significant places in history is that it was the hiding place for Scotland’s Crown Jewels after Charles II’s coronation in 1651. Within a year, Dunnottar was under siege by English troops. Six women smuggled the jewels out of the castle to safety, pledging to throw the jewels into the sea rather than see the English get their hands on them. Today, the Honours of Scotland are the oldest surviving set of crown jewels in the British Isles.

History aside, though… look at that view! I can’t wait to stand there and take it all in.

6. The Royal Scotsman train

Scotland Top Ten: Ride the Royal Scotsman on the line from Perth to Inverness at Dalnaspidal, nr Dalwhinnie, Badenoch and Strathspey, Scotland
Photo courtesy of Belmond.

Travel is a wonderful experience to be sure, but the actual mechanics of getting from A to B often leave a lot to be desired. Cramped seats on a budget airline, rental cars that are unfamiliar, crowded subways. Blech. I have a not-so-secret desire to travel in first class style so I can actually enjoy the journey as well as the destination. There’s no better way to do this than by riding the Royal Scotsman train, operated by Belmond.

The rail cars, which run April-October, are outfitted in mahogany and Edwardian elegance. Each journey carries no more than 36 guests and 12 staff.  With those numbers, you can be certain that you will be treated like royalty. The observation car even has a veranda that you can step out on to watch the scenery pass by. This palace on wheels even has a spa car! During the day you will enjoy excursions throughout the Scottish Highlands, and in the evening you will relax to a fine gourmet dinner. Meals and beverages are included in your fare, but it carries a hefty price: roughly $5750 for a three day journey or a whopping $13,000 for a seven day journey – and that’s per person.

Oh well, I can still dream, can’t I?

7. Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

If you fly to Scotland, the chances are good that you will fly into Edinburgh, the capital city. Just a word of warning. The latter half of this city’s name is pronounced nothing like the US city of Pittsburgh. It is somewhere between Edin-burrow or Edin-brah. I usually use the former pronunciation.  As long as you don’t say Edin-burg, I think you’ll be fine.

So, what is there to see in this Scottish city?  Plenty! But the thing that appeals to me most is the Royal Military Tattoo.

Scotland Top Ten: The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is a must for anyone who loves pageantry.
Image via Flickr by DVIDSHUB

Now, this tattoo has nothing at all to do with needles and ink. The term “tattoo” derives from a 17th-century Dutch phrase doe den tap toe (“turn off the tap”) a signal to tavern owners each night, played by a regiment’s Corps of Drums, to turn off the taps of their ale kegs so that the soldiers would retire to their lodgings at a reasonable hour. With the establishment of modern barracks and full military bands later in the 18th century, the term “tattoo” was used to describe the last duty call of the day, as well as a ceremonial form of evening entertainment performed by military musicians.

Each performance begins with a fanfare, which is usually a piece of music composed specifically for that year’s show. The Massed Pipes and Drums then perform, marching through the gatehouse of the castle and performing a traditional pipe band set. Then, the show’s featured acts perform individually. These acts could be either civilian or military. Whatever they are, you can bet that you will be entertained! The show concludes with a fireworks spectacular at each performance.

8. Up Helly Aa Festival in Lerwick, Shetland

Scotland Top Ten: The Up Helly Aa fire festival in the Shetland Islands is like none other in the world.
Image via Flickr by Vicky Brock

You’re watching a horde of fur-clad Vikings marching through the streets carrying torches. You might think you’ve suddenly traveled through time, but a more likely explanation is that you’re in Lerwick, Shetland on the last Tuesday in January.

Groups dress in costumes and carry torches through the town. At the end, they throw their torches into a replica Viking longship, resulting in a massive bonfire. Then the groups visit local halls to attend private parties. At the hall, each group performs an act, which may be a send-up of a popular TV show or film, a skit on local events, or singing or dancing.

9. The Glasgow Necropolis

Scotland Top Ten: The Glasgow Necropolis is a Victorian cemetery situated on top of a hill.
Image via Flickr by p_a_h

As I’ve written about elsewhere on this blog, I love old cemeteries. This one in Glasgow, the name of which means City of the Dead, is situated on a hilltop. Over 50,000 people are buried there, but only 3500 or so of the burial sites are marked. A monument to John Knox, leader of the Scottish Reformation, stands near the summit of the hill, surrounded by some of the larger memorials. If it seems odd to put a monument in a cemetery, I would agree; however, the monument predates the cemetery, not vice versa.

Among the graves you will find in the Necropolis is the grave of William Miller, also known as Laureate of the Nursery. He is the author of the “Wee Willie Winkie” nursery rhyme.

10. The Garden of Cosmic Speculation in Dumfries

Scotland Top Ten: The Snail Mound and the Snake Mound in the Garden of Cosmic Speculation.
Image via Flickr by yellow book

Sadly, this site is only open one day a year, so I would have to plan my travels carefully. The Garden of Cosmic Speculation is a 30 acre sculpture garden that is inspired by science and mathematics. The owner, Charles Jencks, says that “the garden uses nature to celebrate nature, both intellectually and through the senses, including the sense of humor. A water cascade of steps recounts the story of the universe, a terrace shows the distortion of space and time caused by a black hole, a ‘Quark Walk’ takes the visitor on a journey to the smallest building blocks of matter, and a series of landforms and lakes recall fractal geometry.”

It’s such a unique place, I would love to be able to see it someday!

What about you?

Have you visited any of these places? Would you add any to my list? Let me know in the comments section below!

 

Scotland Top Ten: Places You Should Visit in Scotland Before You Kick the Bucket
21 New UNESCO World Heritage Sites – Part 2

21 New UNESCO World Heritage Sites – Part 2

For my post on the first ten new UNESCO World Heritage sites, click here.

11. Taputapuātea, center of the “Polynesian Triangle”, French Polynesia

The Marae, or burial site of Taputapuatea in French Polynesia - one of the new UNESCO World Heritage sites.
The marae of Taputapuātea.

Taputapuātea on Ra’iatea Island is part of the Polynesian Triangle – the last part of the globe to be settled by humans. The property includes two forested valleys, a portion of lagoon and coral reef and a strip of open ocean. At the heart of the property is the Taputapuātea marae complex – a political, ceremonial and funerary center. The site has a paved courtyard with a large standing stone at its center. Widespread in Polynesia, the marae were places of learning where priests and navigators from all over the Pacific would gather to offer sacrifices to the gods and share their knowledge of the genealogical origins of the universe, and of deep-ocean navigation. Taputapuātea is an exceptional testimony to 1,000 years of mā’ohi civilization.

12. Tarnowskie Góry, lead-silver-zinc mine, Poland

The mines of Tarnowskie Góry and the underground water system there - are one of the new UNESCO World a Heritage sites.
Today, you can tour the mines of Tarnowskie Góry.

Southern Poland contains one of the main mining areas of central Europe.  The site at
Tarnowskie Góry includes the entire underground mine with adits, shafts, galleries and even a water management system. According to UNESCO, Tarnowskie Góry represents a significant contribution to the global production of lead and zinc.

According to legend, in 1490 a local peasant-farmer named Rybka found a strange, heavy, metallic stone while plowing the field near village of Tarnowice. He presented his find to a local priest; within three decades the town became the largest silver mining center in the area. Its population rivaled in size some of the major cities of the Renaissance world. Prospectors were coming from all corners of the continent, some as far as Spain. They were spurred on by the massive amount and quality of ore, so high that on many occasions it was said to be practically pure, metallic silver. Silver, lead and zinc were bountiful in these grounds and the evidence of an early metal production dates back to at least 3rd century AD. Sadly, in the beginning of the 20th century, the source of the silver ore dried out and the mining stopped completely.

13. Sambor Prei Kuk temple zone, Cambodia

The temples of Sambor Prei Kurt, Cambodia are one of the 21 new UNESCO World Heritage sites.
A temple in Sambor Prei Kuk

Sambor Prei Kuk is a Khmer name meaning “the temple in the richness of the forest.” The archaeological site has been identified as Ishanapura, capital of the Chenla Empire that flourished there in the late 6th/early 7th centuries. The vestiges of the city cover an area of over 15 square miles and include a walled city center as well as numerous temples. Ten of the temples are octagonal, unique specimens of their kind in southeast Asia. Decorated sandstone elements in the site include lintels, pediments and colonnades – they are true masterpieces. The art and architecture developed here became models for other parts of the region and lay the ground for the unique Khmer style of the Angkor period.

 

14. English Lake District, United Kingdom

The Lake District in England is one of 21 new UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Located in northwest England, the English Lake District is a mountainous area whose valleys have been modeled by glaciers in the Ice Age. From the 18th century onwards, the Picturesque and Romantic movements celebrated this area in paintings, drawings and words. It also inspired an awareness of the importance of beautiful landscapes and triggered early efforts to preserve them. Interestingly, only one of the lakes in the Lake District is called by that name, Bassenthwaite Lake. All the others – such as Windermere, Coniston Water, Ullswater and Buttermere – are meres, tarns and waters.

15. Valongo Wharf, archeological site, Brazil

The Valongo Wharf in Rio de Janeiro is one of 21 new UNESCORTED World Heritage sites.
The Valongo Wharf, now surrounded by the city of Rio de Janeiro.

Valongo Wharf Archaeological Site encompasses the entirety of Jornal do Comércio Square in the center of Rio. It was the landing site and center of trading of African slaves from 1811 until the banning of the transatlantic slave trade in 1831. An estimated 900,000 Africans arrived in South America via Valongo.

16. Venetian Works of Defense, Croatia, Italy, Montenegro

The Venetian defense work of the 15th-17th centuries are one of 21 new UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Aerial view of the Venetian defense system in Palmanova, Italy.

This property consists of 15 components of defense works in Italy, Croatia and Montenegro, spanning more than 600 miles between the Lombard region of Italy and the eastern Adriatic Coast. The fortifications throughout Venice and its mainland territories protected the Republic of Venice from other European powers to the northwest. Those of Venice’s overseas territories protected the sea routes and ports in the Adriatic Sea to the Levant. They were necessary to support the expansion and authority of Venice. The introduction of gunpowder led to significant shifts in military techniques and architecture. These changes are reflected in the design of alla moderna bastioned fortifications, which spread throughout Europe.

17. ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape, South Africa

The Khomari Cultural Landscape of Botswana and South Africa is one of 21 new UNESCORTED World Heritage site.
Bushmen in the ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape

The ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape is located at the border between Botswana and Namibia. The area contains evidence of human occupation from the Stone Age to the present. They developed specific knowledge, cultural practices and worldview related to the geographical features of their environment. The ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape bears testimony to the way of life that prevailed in the region over thousands of years. In fact, a set of tools almost identical to that used by the present-day inhabitants of the area was discovered at Border Cave in 2012. Those tools dated to 44,000 BC!

18. Landscapes of Dauria, Mongolia, Russia

Dauria Landscape, an area in Russia and Mongolia, is one of 21 new UNESCO World Heritage sites.
A Daurian hedgehog.

Shared between Mongolia and the Russian Federation, Dauria is a sea of grass that forms the best and most intact example of an undisturbed steppe ecosystem. Because of the climate’s distinct wet and dry periods, Dauria contains a wide diversity of species. The steppes serve as habitats for rare species of animals, such as the White-Naped crane and the Great bustard, as well as millions of vulnerable, endangered or threatened migratory birds. It is also a critical site on the migration path for the Mongolian gazelle.

The region has given its name to various animal species including Daurian hedgehog, and the following birds: Asian brown flycatcher (Muscicapa daurica), Daurian jackdaw, Daurian partridge, Daurian redstart, Daurian starling, Daurian shrike and the red-rumped swallow (Hirundo daurica).

19. Los Alerces National Park, Argentina

Los Alerces National Park in Argentina is one of 21 new UNESCORTED World Heritage sites.

Los Alerces National Park is located in the Andes Mountains of northern Patagonia. The park is vital for the protection of some of the last portions of continuous Patagonian Forest. A number of endemic and threatened species of flora and fauna make the park their home. The park was created in 1937 in order to protect the alerce forest, and other plants of the Patagonian Andes. The National Park has the largest alerce forest of Argentina. The slow growing alerce is one of the longest-living trees in the world; some in the park are around 3,000 years old, with many of them over 1,000 years.

20. Qinghai Hoh Xil, China

Qinghai Hoh Xil in China is one of 21 new UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Qinghai Hoh Xil is the largest and highest plateau in the world. This extensive area of alpine mountains and steppe systems is situated more than 4,500 m above sea level, where sub-zero average temperatures prevail all year round. Despite the harsh climate, Hoh Xil is home to more than 230 species of wild animals, 20 of which are under Chinese state protection.  Protected species include the wild yak, wild donkey, white-lip deer, brown bear and the endangered Tibetan antelope, or chiru. The abundant plateau pika, a small burrowing rodent, is the main food of the region’s brown bears; the bears also feed on the yak and antelope.

21. Historic city of Ahmedabad, India

The historic walled city of India is one of 21 new UNESCO World Heritage site.
Entrance to Bhadra Fort in Ahmedabad

The walled city of Ahmedabad, founded in 1411 by Sultan Ahmad Shah presents a rich architectural heritage from the sultanate period. This is nowhere more evident than in the Bhadra citadel, the walls and gates of the city, and numerous mosques and tombs. The city consists of densely-packed traditional houses in gated streets with features such as bird feeders, public wells and religious institutions. The city continued to flourish as the capital of the State of Gujarat for six centuries, up to the present.

new UNESCO World Heritage Sites
Bucket List: Skellig Michael, Ireland

Bucket List: Skellig Michael, Ireland

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

Every now and then, I will see a picture of a place and wonder how it’s possible that I haven’t seen it before.  I had one of those moments at the end of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, when Rey climbed up that mountain to give Luke his lightsaber.  It was such a cool looking place – why had I never seen it before?

rsz_skellig_michael_2.jpg

Thanks to the internet, it didn’t take long to discover that the location for that scene was Skellig Michael, an island off the coast of Ireland. A Christian monastery was founded there some time between the 6th and 8th century. People lived on the island until the late 12th/early 13th century. The remains of the monastery, and most of the island, are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A small, secluded community in the sea

The monastic site at Skellig Michael contains six beehive cells, two oratories and a number of stone crosses and slabs. It also contains a later medieval church and a hermitage. Historians have estimated that no more than twelve monks and an abbot lived there at any one time.  Those monks would have to descend nearly 700 steps to go fishing for their food each morning.  The remainder of their day would be spent in prayer, tending their gardens, and/or studying.

rsz_skellig_michael_3

The stone, beehive-shaped huts were constructed in such a way that rain would never enter them.  They are circular on the outside, but rectangular on the inside.

Finally, I will leave you with these words from author George Bernard Shaw, who visited Skellig Michael in 1910:

The most fantastic and impossible rock in the world: Skellig Michael…where in south west gales the spray knocks stones out of the lighthouse keeper’s house…the Skelligs are pinnacled, crocketed, spired, arched, caverned, minaretted; and these gothic extravagances are not curiosities of the islands: they are the islands: there is nothing else. The rest of the cathedral may be under the sea for all I know…An incredible, impossible, mad place…I tell you the thing does not belong to any world that you and I have lived and worked in: it is part of our dream world.

The site will no doubt be featured as a Star Wars: The Last Jedi filming location when the movie premieres in December 2017. I, for one, can’t wait to see more of it!

Before you go:

A limited number of tour operators run trips to Skellig Michael during the summer season (May to October, inclusive), weather permitting. For safety reasons, because the steps up to the monastery are rocky, steep, and old, climbs are not permitted during very wet or windy weather.  Reservations are recommended and should be made far in advance of any planned trip to the island.

 

Bucket List: La Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires

Bucket List: La Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires

I’ve mentioned before my love of old cemeteries. There is one that is pretty high up on my bucket list: La Recoleta in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Established in 1822, it was the city’s first public cemetery.

Photo via Flickr by papajuan74

La Recoleta cemetery is set in 14 acres, with 4691 vaults, all above ground. Ninety-four of those vaults have been declared National Historical Monuments by the Argentine government and are protected by the state. The entire cemetery is laid out in sections like city blocks, with wide tree-lined walkways branching into sidewalks filled with mausoleums.

La Recoleta was named as one of the ten most beautiful cemeteries in the world by CNN, and it’s easy to see why:

Photo via Flickr by Michael K Donnelly

Photo via Flickr by Liam Quinn

The cemetery is the final resting place of many notable people, including Eva Perón (aka Evita), presidents of Argentina, Nobel Prize winners, the founder of the Argentine Navy, and an illegitimate granddaughter of Napoleon.

Photo via Flickr by David Berkowitz

As you can imagine, there are interesting stories that go along with some of the memorials there. Take, for instance, Rufina Cambacérès, who suddenly collapsed one evening in 1902 and was pronounced dead at the tender age of 19.

Photo via Flickr by Christian Haugen

The story goes that a few days after Rufina’s funeral, a cemetery worker found that the coffin had moved within the crypt and the lid was broken in places. Fearing grave robbery, he opened it to find something even worse— scratch marks covering the inside of the coffin, and Rufina dead, hands and face bruised from having tried to break her way out of the coffin.

And, if you’re into ghost stories, there is the story of David Alleno, a grave digger who worked at the cemetery for some thirty years. He saved his wages for years in order to buy his very own plot in the burial ground. According to the legend, after commissioning an Italian architect to sculpt a statue of him, he put the finishing touches on the precious spot then went home and killed himself. There are rumors that he haunts the cemetery at night, and that visitors can still hear the noise of his keys as he walks the narrow streets before dawn.

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These are just two of the stories centered in La Recoleta Cemetery. I’m sure there are nearly as many stories as there are tombs. I hope one day I can go discover more of them myself!

La Recoleta Cemetery is located at Junín 1760, 1113 CABA, Argentina. Telephone +54 11 4803-1594.  The cemetery is open daily from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm. English tours are available at 11:00 am on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

 

St. Neot’s Church, Cornwall

St. Neot’s Church, Cornwall

At first glance, it doesn’t seem like anything special – just another stone church in the English countryside, with cockeyed headstones in the adjoining cemetery. However, St. Neot’s Church on the edge of Bodmin Moor in Cornwall is steeped in history, with stained glass windows dating from as far back as the early 16th century.

But before we go in the church, let’s take a look at the grounds. There are some very old graves & stonework here.

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That large pillar in the center of the photo is known as the Saint Neot cross. It is thought to have been given by Prince Alfred (later to become King Alfred, 9th century) who visited the area.

The little stub to the right and front of the Saint Neot cross is the small head of an old cross, all that is left of it. Many shafts were used as supports for farm gates. The top part is all that remains.

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The church building was built around 1425. Some of the stained glass windows date from the period 1508-1544. They are magnificent.

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If you’re traveling in or near Bodmin Moor, do yourself a favor and take a quick break at St Neot’s. It’s well worth a small detour to see these windows that have lasted throughout the centuries.

St. Neot’s Church is located on Liskeard Hill in St. Neot, Cornwall.  Postcode PL14 6NG. It was unstaffed but open when we visited. We were free to walk around and take photographs. Group tours are available but must be arranged in advance.

 

Highgate Cemetery, London

Highgate Cemetery, London

I have already confessed my love of old cemeteries. If I were to rate the old cemeteries I had seen on a scale of 1 to 10, Highgate Cemetery in London would be an 11. It is a beautiful and eerie place to wander through.

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It is divided into two sections, east and west. The East Cemetery can be roamed freely for a small entrance charge. You may take as long as you like to look at the graves there. Some of the notable people who are buried there are Karl Marx, author Douglas Adams, and George Eliot.

The West Cemetery can only be viewed while taking a guided tour. We did this and it was fascinating. The guide explained what all the symbols of the grave markers meant. For instance, a broken column symbolized a life that had been cut short. And there was the stunning Egyptian Avenue, a circular arrangement of tombs topped by a majestic Cedar tree. The West Cemetery has such notable residents as the wife and parents of Charles Dickens, and actress Jean Simmons.

I read that there are 53,000 graves at Highgate… but that there are 170,000 people buried there. In walking through the grounds, you certainly do get the feeling of it being crowded. In any given location, you could see grave markers five or six deep, some of them leaning precariously as tree roots have grown under them and have knocked them off center.

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If, like me, you enjoy the beauty of an old cemetery, Highgate should be on your short list of places to visit.

Highgate Cemetery is located at Swain’s Lane, London N6 6PJ. Please note that the closest tube station is Archway, not Highate.

 

Green Mount Cemetery VT

Green Mount Cemetery VT

I’m a little weird in that I like to tour really old cemeteries. It’s not that I have a fascination with death or that I’m into the occult. I just think that you can find some extraordinary art in cemeteries. So on our recent trip to Vermont, I decided we should take a little detour to Green Mount Cemetery in Montpelier.

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One of the first things we saw when we arrived was the William Stowell tomb. It features a huge chunk of granite with a set of stairs cut into it.

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Then there is the grave of Margaret Pritkin, who died at age seven in 1900. It is incredibly realistic looking.

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The story goes that Margaret’s parents gave the sculptor a photograph of their daughter when they commissioned him to do the memorial. When he delivered the finished statue, they were upset that he had left a button off of one of her boots. He then showed them the photograph, which clearly showed that Margaret had indeed been missing a button. Talk about an eye for detail!

Finally, there’s Black Agnes. It’s actually the grave of John Erastus Hubbard. Neither black nor female, the statue is really called Thanatos, which is Greek for death. Local legend has it that the statue is cursed. Anyone who sits on the lap of the statue will supposedly either encounter bad luck or die. (I didn’t test it.)

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The Green Mount Cemetery is located at  250 State St, Montpelier, VT 05602.  Telephone 802-223-5352.