For all you taphophiles out there, how many cemeteries do think are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site? Well, I’ll give you a hint: Skogskyrkogården is one of them*. It was inscribed on the list in 1994, yet, I have to admit that I had never heard of it until I started doing my research for Sweden.
Back in the early 20th century, a competition was held to design a new cemetery for Stockholm, and two young architects, Gunnar Asplund and Sigurd Lewerentz, won. Their entry won the competition in 1915, a couple of years later work began on an old gravel quarry, and by 1920 the first section had been completed. The 3.6 km wall that surrounds the cemetery was finished in the early 1930s, and other buildings (chapels and the crematorium) were finished by 1940. So the cemetery is less than a century old, and indeed, it was the second youngest cultural site to be given World Heritage status. It won because of the influence that this cemetery design has had on cemeteries around the world.
This cemetery is known for its blend of landscape and architecture. Unlike the other “great” cemeteries of Europe, this one is not known for its monuments (and was not designed for them). It really is meant to be a place where the graves blend into the landscape, and indeed they do. The headstones were quite small, smaller than most cemeteries that I’ve been to, and a few had small adornments, like ceramic birds or handmade items. There were a blend of wooden, glass, stone, and iron crosses. Some of the crosses had sunk into the ground almost to the hilt.
Due to the near uniformity of the size of the headstones, it almost looks like a military cemetery at times. However, you can see that the rows are not strictly uniform – everything seems just slightly out of alignment, which I think was the way it was designed. The areas I particularly liked were the graves under the large trees – if I was buried in a place like this, that’s where I’d want to be.
As I was wandering around, I kept hearing a knocking sound. At first I thought it was due to the construction going on in the cemetery (like so many others I’ve been to, there seems to be a lot of work going on to deal with the drainage system there). However, I soon realised that the sound was a woodpecker, which got me really excited, as it’s been years since I’ve heard one. I couldn’t find the first woodpecker I heard, but I found the second, carefully walking and pecking at the long branch coming out from one of the trees. I have to admit I was quite fascinated by these little birds with their incredibly strong beaks.
I took a break at the visitor’s (UNESCO) centre, which is mostly a small cafe. They had really good homemade sandwiches and desserts there. Afterwards I thought I would try to find Greta Garbo’s grave. I knew what section it was in (12), but for the life of me, I couldn’t find it. I wish I had googled the image beforehand – it’s a simple stone, the rose colour of the stone is kind of unique to the cemetery, so it should have been easy to find. Ah well…it’s not unusual for me NOT to find the graves I specifically seek. I didn’t explore any of the chapels or other buildings as there were funerals/memorials going on in most of them. If you are into architecture however, they may have some interest for you, as this is what the architects who designed this place are known for.
*In a search on the UNESCO website with the word “cemetery,” 40 hits came up. Of the 40 however, only a handful appear to be cemeteries (or necropolises) in their entirety. Most are sites that have a cemetery/necropolis as part of the entire site.
Quality of Monuments: Most of the monuments are simple stones and crosses. It’s the sheer number of them in this location that stands out.
Cemetery Grounds: This cemetery is more famous for its landscape than its monuments. The cemetery is like a long rectangle, with various open and wooded sections. There are a variety of monuments (like the large cross and the hill of remembrance) and buildings here as well. Being wooded, there was also other forms of life here too – birds, squirrels, and rabbits all made appearances while I was there.
Visitors: There were several funerals or memorials going on the morning I visited, but most people I saw within the grounds seemed to be locals out for a stroll or a jog (or a bike ride). There also seemed to be a few tourists here and there too.
Photographer Notes: If you are interested in the birds/wildlife here, some long lenses would be useful. I didn’t have anything better than my iPhone with me, so I couldn’t really get anything useful of the birds I tried to shoot.
Inaugurated: Various sections between 1920-1940?
Location: Take the green metro line towards Farsta Strand and get off at Skogskyrkogården station. Once you go through the exit, take a hard right and follow the road until you see the Skogskyrkogården sign (another right). It shouldn’t take more than 5-10 minutes to walk there from the station.
Hours: The cemetery itself is open 24/7 throughout the year. From May 27 – August 26, the visitors centre is open from 11:00-16:00. In September it’s open on Sundays from 11:00-16:00. There are guided tours in English on Sundays during the summer.