I love cemeteries. It sounds morbid, but then, there are cemeteries that are big tourist sites, like Père Lachaise in Paris. There’s something dramatic about graveyards that invites a wander. And it’s interesting that, unlike monuments or museums, they don’t have to try to be significant or historical. I’ve walked through quite a few graveyards in the places I’ve visited– New Orleans, where the graves are above ground, since burying people underground in swamp land can yield ugly results. In France, there are tucked away cemeteries, less vast and stars-studded than Lachaise, like the little one in Montmartre, or perched at the top of one of the hills in Lyon. My first year dorm room even looked out on a cemetery. The proximity to dead people didn’t stop the tailgaters.
So of course, I’m interested in checking out the cemeteries here in Russia, which have their own particular style and character. As in this sweet photo of Moscow’s famous Novodevichy cemetery–kladbishe, in Russian–my BFF Alex posted on her Tumblr.
I stumbled upon this amazing place, on the island near work, one day soon after I arrived. When you look at a Google Map of the island, it’s the biggest green space, and it certainly looks like an overgrown park, with the trees and overgrown greenery and people strolling down the paths. There just happen to be graves rising from that overgrown greenery.
I think the overgrown look is generally a popular one in Russian landscaping. They like things to look a little wild, a little like something out of a skazka (fairytale). Indeed, I’m sure there are some fairies and spirits that dwell in this place that will do horrible things to you (skin you alive…or bury you alive…or boil you alive…basically think of something that’s already horrible and add “alive”) if you cross them, as is the inevitable ending of all Russian fairytales.
You get this strange contrast between graves that look like they’ve been there since Rasputin’s time…
It’s really a lovely place to just wander, a sort of dreamy remove from the “duck your head and go about your business” attitude of urban Russian life. You could get lost wandering the paths and looking at the monuments. Though probably best to exit before dark.
Despite the fairytale mystic, the cemetery is still on Vasilevsky Island. I somehow doubt that the residents of this apartment block ever prop themselves up against a gravestone with a book like I did first year.