Friday, 7 February 2014
A visit to Salzburg’s biggest cemetery, opened in 1879 and called the Kommunalfriedhof, is on the programme today. Situated on the outskirts south of the city, it covers twenty-five hectares and contains some 20,000 graves in which about 160,000 people have so far been laid to rest.
Only a few people are visiting on this sunny morning; they replace burnt-out candles on family graves and spend some moments in remembrance, their heads bowed in silent prayer. I wander along tree-lined paths past the chapel and the crematory, and visit special areas that can be seen at intervals: a fenced plot dedicated to the Dutch soldiers who fought and fell in the last war, a Muslim section, a place for anonymous urns, for Asian graves and others. Each themed section has a different look as one wanders in a time warp from those impressive graves of the imperial era towards our more modest, democratic age.
The style of this cemetery is quite unlike those I have seen in England, where simple slabs of engraved stone, often leaning with age, are dotted amongst the lawns and yews surrounding village churches. Here, each headstone rises behind a small garden-like plot containing shrubs, flowers, gravel and candles, and there is a striving for individual design and variety.
As I walk around the extensive cemetery, I study names and dates carved into stone slabs bearing wrought-iron crosses, sculptures of angels, carved wreaths or the likeness of the dear departed on a ceramic oval. The sun’s rays filter through dark branches of trees growing between the graves, and the singing of birds only enhances the quiet and peaceful mood.
This cemetery is an attractive recreational area and was intended as such from the beginning. Lawns, shrubs and well over a thousand old trees are assembled to create a park for the living and the dead, an inviting space to visit and remember. Lovers could meet here to wander hand in hand amongst the memories of bygone generations. And if it is already this beautiful in the bleak season, what must it be like in the spring? In early summer? I should like to return then, like the swallows …
Eventually I approach the arcade that runs the length of one side and discover that here the famous and influential members of local families are commemorated in tombs of honour. There are mayors, bankers, architects and judges, as well as members of the aristocracy. Each segment of the arcade is furnished with an impressively decorated marble slab, a sculpture or occasionally even a large painting.
Wrought-iron lanterns are suspended from chains that descend from vaulted roofs painted in delicate trompe-l’oeil motifs, and the stone floor bears wreaths, flower arrangements and candle holders. There is a distinctly classical, Italian style expressed in art and architecture, and the sunshine that casts deep shadows today reinforces this impression.
A huge gate of profuse metal curlicues is set into the main entrance here. It was made in 1885 by the locksmith Karl Fiedler according to designs by one Professor Joseph Salb, and a plaque dedicated to the memory of this “Composer of the great wrought-iron cemetery gate” is set into the wall.
Later, I read that this cemetery is reputedly one of the most beautiful in the whole of Europe, and – now that I have seen it for myself – I have no trouble believing it. With a splendid view of the Hohensalzburg fortress and framed by snow-dusted mountains, it seems a fit resting place for those fortunate people who were born in Salzburg or concluded their lives here … Wish I were one of them!