In my research for Warsaw, the one cemetery that kept coming up was Powązki Cemetery, one I had never heard of. I’ve never seen it in a top ten or twenty list, I don’t recognize any of the statues that come up in Google searches. And I don’t know why. This place is amazing! There are lots of really interesting, unique statues, spread out throughout the grounds. And the grounds are extensive – I was there for almost 3 hours and barely covered half the cemetery (and that was at a pretty rushed pace). This place is worth a full-day, especially if you combine it with the local adjoining cemeteries, some of which are the Jewish Cemetery, the 2 Protestant cemeteries, and the Powązki Military Cemetery, just a couple of streets away.
The first thing that I noticed was that there were quite a few male statues – not just portraits (reliefs, busts, etc.) of the deceased, but male angels and other grieving men. I always like to see more males in cemetery art, it helps balance things out a bit. At one point a funeral was happening at some other part of the cemetery, but I got to explore the cemetery while listening to a beautiful, haunting melody being played on the trumpet.
I was surprised at the number of iron crosses here – a lot of them came in very different designs. One of my favourites was in an Art Nouveau style (see the one above on the bottom right). In fact, there were quite a few Art Nouveau monuments throughout the cemetery, either in style or lettering. Of course, since this is such an old cemetery that survived all the major events that Warsaw has had to endure over the last 2 centuries, there are plenty of older symbols too (a few skull and crossbones to inverted torches and winged hourglasses). But you can see the evolution of different styles in many of the monuments, tombs, and graves.
Like many monumental cemeteries, there are plenty of grieving women in the cemetery. My favourite is of the title photo of this blog post – did the artist specifically design that statue to match the lean of the tree, or was it just serendipity? Either way, it’s fantastic. I also quite liked the two ladies on the side of a family tomb (see above) – it’s not often you see statues on the sides of a plain tomb, but I thought it was really original. There were plenty of angels and other religious statues here too, although I did not photograph many of them.
As this cemetery is so large, it is used by the locals as a park (somewhat) as well. I saw a couple of people cycling through it (not to get anywhere, but to go for a ride in the cemetery, as they looped around a lot), mothers walking their babies in their prams, etc. Of course, being a cool, but bright day, there were people there too, cleaning out the dead plants and left over Christmas decorations of the past winter. I saw a few crocuses starting to poke up through the ground as well.
Despite being such a large cemetery, and one that is promoted through the Warsaw tourist site, there isn’t a lot of information here. No cemetery maps featuring locations of notable tombs/people, which I thought was strange, since this is the place many of Warsaw’s notable people have been buried. I also tried look for the graves of Jan and Antonina Zabinski‘s graves, but could not find them in the vast acreage that is this cemetery (their story of how they hid and helped over 300 Jews during the war was the basis of the book and the movies The Zookeeper’s Wife (you can visit their home at the Warsaw Zoo, where it still stands today)). Another famous person from Warsaw who survived the war and had his own movie was Wladyslaw Szpilman (of The Pianist fame), but he’s buried in the Powązki Military Cemetery, which I did not have time to visit (nor will I be able to, since it’s closed on the weekends).
Overall I have to say that I was really pleasantly surprised by this cemetery. The grounds, the monuments, the history… all combine to make this as compelling a cemetery as any of the grand monumental ones. I really hope I have a chance to come back and visit it again before I leave, but regardless of whether I not I do, I know this will be one that will warrant more repeat visits if I am lucky to visit Warsaw again.
Monuments: Excellent. Lots of interesting statues, tombs, crosses, and many other details that span over 200 years of funerary art.
Grounds: Extensive – there are 100 acres of land here, with over a million burials. There are lots of trees to provide shade (and dappled light on sunny days), but the ground is flat and the paths are well-maintained.
Visitors: There were a few visitors here while I was visiting, including people who were there to visit and/or clean gravesites.
Notes: The trees can make for some strange shadows on sunny days, that can be both a plus and a negative when photographing the monuments.
Site: Powązki Cemetery (Cmentarz Powązkowski)
Notable Internments: Chopin’s family (he’s buried in Paris) and former piano teachers, many notable Polish artists and politicians.
Location: Powązkowska 14, 01-797 Warsaw. Bus 180 stops right outside the entrance (there are multiple).
Hours: 07:00 – 20:00 daily