Well, I thought that Staglieno Cemetery was the mecca of all cemeteries, but Vienna’s Central Cemetery gives it a good run for its money. I knew this would be a big cemetery, I knew it would have beautiful monuments, yet for some reason I was still unprepared for its beauty. When I arrived it was cool and drizzly, so I headed to the galleries right at the front of the cemetery that had many monumental statues. Pretty soon though, I was tempted by the statues I could see beyond, and rain be damned, I had to go photograph them. The main path leading into the cemetery is lined with many a beautiful statue/monument, and it was hard to choose a side/area to photograph – as I was working one area, another statue would beckon me to another, and I ended up going round in circles trying to capture all of the beautiful work surrounding me.
Many people (tourists) visit this cemetery to see the famous musicians buried or honoured here – the likes of Strauss, Brahms, Beethoven, Mozart, etc. I’m not normally interested in chasing after the graves of famous people, not least because many of the monuments tend to be quite plain or uninspiring. Not here in Vienna – all the monuments to these great composers had interesting statues, with flowers or other greenery surrounding them. I was photographing the monuments when I realized that I was actually photographing a famous person’s grave! That threw me for a bit of a loop. Beyond the Graves of Honour area, newer graves tend to spread out behind them.
This cemetery is huge – 520 acres (2.4 square km), over 3 million burials – and I dare say it would take more than one day to see it all. I didn’t have that luxury – I had limited time in Vienna and knew that I wanted to go to the Cemetery of the Nameless later that day. That said, I enjoyed strolling down the leafy paths, watching the play of light through the trees, the old graves covered in vegetation, iron gates completely rusted out…it really was a relaxing experience. I’m always in a state of shock after I visit a cemetery – the peaceful calm that I experience in those places is always in for a rude awakening when I return to the tourist centre and the cacophonous mass of tourists there! So as this place is somewhat of a tourist destination, there were quite a few groups and individuals there to see and photograph, just like I was, but still, it was a small number of people in comparison to normal tourist sites.
There weren’t so many monuments as I walked further out into the cemetery, that is, they tended to be randomly placed amongst all the other graves. If I had more time in Vienna (say, like living there), I would visit often to explore the back sections and other denomination sites within the cemetery. This is definitely one to come back to.
Quality of Monuments: Superb. The quality of the statues here are on par with any of the large monumental cemeteries in Italy. Most of them tend to be clustered near the main area past Gate 2, which makes them quite easy to photograph. Other statues and monuments are of course scattered throughout the rest of the cemetery but I only had a few hours here so I couldn’t discover them all. The monuments to the famous composers were better than I expected, although I will admit I missed out on seeing Falco’s gravesite – something for next time I guess. Overall though, I think there aren’t as many as in the big Italian cemeteries, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. They also don’t seem to have the same passionate grief that you find with the Italians.
The Cemetery Grounds: Huge. You can drive through this cemetery (as a mourner I would imagine), there are even horse-carriage rides through this cemetery. It’s beautiful though. The trees, the ivy, the wandering paths…for me it really drew comparisons to Staglieno. Now, they are both very different cemeteries – Staglieno is on a hillside, full of large tombs and monuments and statues, Central is a very large flat area, but very green, and if it has fewer “monumental” areas, the paths are gorgeous to walk through – but they are both very beautiful and worth more than a single visit, if you have the time.
Visitors: Quite a few. As Vienna’s largest cemetery, they have multiple funerals going on here every day, plus I ran into mourners in nearly every section I visited. There were more tourists here than any other place I have visited (so far), but even then those numbers are minimal, and in comparison to how large this cemetery is, insignificant.
Photographer notes: Tripods are not allowed here (without permission), but photography is – although they do ask that you respect any mourners that may be around you. Being such a leafy, green place, infrared would be a good choice here.
Cemetery: Vienna Zentralfriedhof (Central Cemetery).
Location: It’s located in the Simmering area, and you can take the U-bahn (U3) down to the last station (Simmering), and then take tram 6 or 71 to Zentralfriedhof (71 literally says Zentralfriedhof Tor 3 (Gate 3) so no worries there). Get off at Tor 2 (Gate 2) – that’s the main gate, although in reality if you want to explore then any gate will do. I learned after the fact that tram 71 runs all the way downtown to the ring road (near the museum quarter), so if you are in that area you could just take the tram all the way down there (and back). However, if you are interested in seeing the Cemetery of the Nameless too, it’s possible from here (see my next post on the Cemetery of the Nameless).
Closed: Open daily