Visiting a cemetery in another country is always a glimpse of another culture for us. We went to the largest burial place in the capital, the Olšany Cemeteries.
Today, in the Prague district of Žižkov, there is a huge cemetery made up of 12 individual cemeteries, which today covers an area of over 50 hectares.
In 1679/80 the city of Prague established the first cemetery in Olšany outside the city gates. The plague dead of the city were to be buried here. Today, this cemetery I. is still remembered by the church dedicated to St. Roch, the saint of the plague.
From the end of the 18th century almost all Prague citizens from the Old and New Town were buried in the cemetery outside the city. The emperor at that time had forbidden burials in the city center. Already at that time, the existing area began to be expanded several times in order to have sufficient burial grounds available.
By the end of the 19th century, the Prague city administration had expanded the Olšany cemetery into a huge area. They had created sections for different faiths, such as Orthodox and Islamic believers, thus creating space for about 2 million burials. In addition, chapels, houses of worship for different faiths and a crematorium were built. Later, military cemeteries for the fallen of the First and Second World Wars were built, where people from different countries are buried.
The Jewish community moved its New Jewish Cemetery to an adjacent lot in 1890.
Walk through the cemetery
We reached the cemetery after a short walk from a streetcar station a little further away. At the latest at the entrance it now becomes clear why one speaks of cemeteries Olšany. This does not only refer to the merging of the many individual cemeteries. In addition, a main road divides the area into two large areas.
We decide to take a walk around part of the grounds, which is more like a huge park.
Right at the entrance to the grounds there is a large map showing the location of some of the graves of famous people. Unfortunately, I am completely ignorant in the field of Czech history and art and so the names there meant nothing to me and we did not walk purposefully as we did during our visit to the Vienna Central Cemetery.
As soon as one enters the area, one stands at almost endlessly long rows of graves. The cemetery reminds me a bit of the Lachaise cemetery in Paris, which we visited during our stay there.
Wide avenues with shady trees cross the cemetery. Smaller paths branch off everywhere, leading to individual grave fields.
The graves not only have different sizes, I also have the feeling that old lies next to new. There are graves with old weathered gravestones overgrown with ivy, other graves have fresh flower decorations. Huge tombstones with a wide variety of figures stand next to plain unadorned gravestones. It almost seems as if in this cemetery the grave design is freely selectable. And I think that’s what makes the tour very interesting.
Whether we passed the oldest preserved tomb of the Zelenka family from 1799, I do not remember exactly. But we saw the largest tomb of the Hrdlickav family.
During the tour, I was always captivated by the visual impressions, the artistic and often very loving designs. Sometimes I also stood in front of graves and thought about how one can come up with such a design of a grave and what kind of person has probably been buried there.
What I also noticed was that many gravestones had German inscriptions. This may be due to the fact that Prague was bilingual until 1945. Czech was spoken as well as German and so you can find German-speaking, Czech-speaking and German-Czech-speaking graves and tombs next to each other.
The Olšany cemeteries are used by the people of Prague not only as a final resting place for their dead. The extensive grounds are also a recreational area and invite visitors to take long walks.
130 00 Praha 3,
March-April and October: 8-18
Metro A – Flora station, Želivského
Tram – 5, 10, 11, 13, 15, 16 (Olšanské hřbitovy stop).
Tram – 10, 11, 16, 26 (stop Mezi hřbitovy)