How many cemeteries have their own castle? Schoonselhof does, although it was initially a country pleasure house (and still looks that way, if not worse for wear). Between 1540 and 1871 it had 20 owners, but when the last died a bachelor, the city eventually bought it with intent of making it a municipal cemetery. Even though it officially opened in 1911, the first burial didn’t take place until August 1914, when a German soldier was first laid to rest here. The cemetery contains the graves of WWI and WWII soldiers as well, though I didn’t have time to see them.
Today’s forecast called for rain, but despite the dramatic skies, it held off. Which is nice, since Schoonselhof is a huge cemetery without a whole lot of tree cover. This is another cemetery that has “the Pere Lachaise of” moniker, even though it was based on Hamburg’s Ohlsdorf Cemetery. In terms of the former, it’s not really that similar. Yes, it’s a big cemetery, but it’s much newer than PL, and does not have the same crowded, monumental nature of its Parisian counterpart. As for the latter, well, Schoonselhof does have a series of blocked-off, slightly maze-like areas, but the bushes here are much shorter and are well-maintained, and there certainly aren’t the same numbers of graves in each section. In fact, each square section had graves around its perimeter, but the central square was often empty. I wonder, if like Laeken Cemetery, these areas are meant for future burials, or to remain as green spaces.
This is a huge, park-like cemetery that has lots of lanes (there were even some structures that looked like bus shelters, but were clearly not in use). I would assume it would be a place that locals would use for running, walking, or cycling, but there wasn’t anyone there doing that, at least while I was there. There were a few other visitors though, and I did come across another pair of photographers (that doesn’t happen too often), but mostly it seemed like I had the place to myself.
I did wander through most of the cemetery, and although there are some interesting monuments throughout the grounds, the best are in the concentrated “historical” sections, right near the entrance of the cemetery. If you are short for time, this would be the place to focus on. Overall, I liked the cemetery, but the vast expanse of the grounds and the relatively open areas made it difficult to get a real feel for the place.
Monuments: Quite good, especially those in the historical section. Lots of bronze and marble here, and there are some spectacularly grand monuments in some of the open areas. A few copies of ‘woman leaning on post’ were here, but they didn’t stand out as much, perhaps because of the sheer scale of the place.
Grounds: Quite extensive. This is a huge cemetery, all 84 hectares of it, but it’s all flat and easy to get around. Most of the plot sites are on raised ground, but it’s mostly slopes to get up and down. Plenty of benches to sit on. There are toilets here I think, but they are at the far end of the cemetery and appear to be in an old building that houses some offices, so they are only open 9-5 during business hours. There isn’t a lot of tree cover here, so bring a hat or umbrella in case of sun or, more likely, rain.
Visitors: Very few while I was here.
Notes: The best monuments are in the historical section.
Cemetery: Schoonselhof Cemetery
Notable Internments: The first burial here was German soldier, on August 29th, 1914. Peter Benoit, founder of the Flemish music school, has a very large monument in the middle of the road. Another massive monument belongs to Hendrik Conscience, a writer.
Location: It’s located in the Hoboken area of Antwerp. The address is Krijgsbaan: Sint Bernardsesteenweg, 2660 Antwerp. The number ten tram starts and ends right near the cemetery, but you can also take lines 2 or 4 to Zwaantjes and walk from there (about 15 minutes). There are buses too, but most require at least one transfer.
Hours: 08:00-17:30 daily