Since I often travel alone I usually don’t worry too much about what I see and when. This sometimes backfires, but usually it works well, allowing me to stay in places that catch my interest and forgoing those that don’t. Unfortunately, when I was in St. Petersburg I got really sick (I think it was the water – which I didn’t drink, but maybe showering was the culprit) which really curtailed my activities. I had hoped to visit at least 2 or 3 more cemeteries while I was there, but I just couldn’t do it (I couldn’t leave the hotel!). So I was still suffering a bit when I ended up in Helsinki. I only had a day and half there, and I ended up spending most of it with a friend of mine, who was there for the same reason (we had a conference up north). Since she wasn’t into cemeteries (more on that in a later post, I hope), I never got to go any cemeteries while I was there. However, I realised that I had some time when I return to Helsinki from Stockholm, as I had about 2 hours to kill before I needed to get to the airport for my flight. So, feeling much healthier and much more confident of the public transportation system than when I first arrived, I finally made it to Helsinki’s Hietaniemi Cemetery.
This is a fairly large cemetery and it has various sections: there is a military cemetery for those who fell during various wars of the 20th century, including a tomb of the unknown soldier, there is a section devoted to the Finnish guard, the Statesmen’s Grove, Artists’ Hill, and four adjacent cemeteries, those being a Jewish, Orthodox, Islamic, and the St. Nicholas Orthodox Parish cemeteries (map). Having passed by the cemetery on my first day in Helsinki, I realised (I hope I was right) that the more northern section was newer. I saw a funeral happening there the first day, and I thought that most of the monuments looked newer. So when I actually went there on my second time in Helsinki, I went straight to what I thought was the oldest section (to the left of the main entrance).
This section was wooded and had plenty of older graves, with various kind of statues and monuments. As I made my way through the graves, I quickly realised that I was far from being alone – there were so many workers there, tending to the graves. Most of them worked singly, some in pairs, but they all had the same bright orange work vests on. Some were clearing away any sticks or leaves on the graves, others burning leaves with a special machine, others taking care of the flowers and other plants. I found it really interesting that there was an entire team of workers doing what is normally meant for the relatives of the deceased to do. I suppose because this section was so old there wasn’t necessarily anyone around who could do it. Eventually, my wandering led me to the artists’ hill, which had the greatest concentration of statues and other monuments.
Before I left, I decided to visit one of the adjacent cemeteries (the orthodox one), but it was mostly filled with simple orthodox crosses and simple headstones. There was one magnificent tomb that had a gold statue protected by the structure around it. It was really amazing, especially on a drab drizzly day.
As I was walking towards the bus stop, the bus passed me by, and rather than wait 20 minutes for the next one, I thought I would walk back to the station. As I did I ended up going through a park that also had gravestones in it, although it was clear that it was a cemetery that had been converted to a park long ago. Actually, a little research shows that it was once a cemetery for plague victims (1710s) and is now known as Old Church Park. Of course, by that time I really needed to get back to the station to get to the airport, so I didn’t really have time to explore it further.
Quality of Monuments: Good – there’s lots of variation here, in terms of headstones, crosses, and statues. The Artists’ Hill has the most concentrated section of statues.
Cemetery Grounds: Quite large and extensive, it would probably take a good half day to go though all of it. There are stairs going up the Artists’ Hill, and the rest of the cemetery is gently rolling.
Visitors: I saw one tour group there and a few other people. Really, there were more workers there than anyone else at the time I was visiting. That said, there weren’t many people overall.
Photographer Notes: Quite a number of statues are under trees, so using a strobe or reflector would probably help to get more details.
Cemetery: Hietaniemi Cemetery (Finnish: Hietaniemen hautausmaa, Swedish: Sandudds begravningsplats)
Location: Near Hietaniemi Beach. Bus 24 will take you right by it (this is the same bus that will take you to Seurasaari). Don’t worry if you miss the first stop, the cemetery is quite long and there are other stops along it.
Hours: 07:00-22:00 daily
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