Colma, California

Real estate has always been heavily in demand in San Francisco.  So much so that the town residents passed an ordinance in 1900 outlawing the construction of any more cemeteries in the city, and then passed another ordinance in 1912 evicting all existing cemeteries from the city limits. The dead were sent off to the necropolis of Colma, south of the city.  With most of Colma’s land dedicated to cemeteries, the population of the dead outnumbers the living by over a thousand to one. This has led to Colma being called “the City of the Silent” and has given rise to a humorous motto, now recorded on the city’s website: “It’s great to be alive in Colma.”   It’s also great to meander the impressive city of the dead and visit some of the great luminaries of early California history.

Here’s a great article about the history of cemeteries in San Francisco. (Thanks to Eleanor for the link.)

Merry Cemetery

Merry Cemetery (Sapanta, Romania)

Per Wikipedia: “The Merry Cemetery is a cemetery in the village of Sapânta, Maramures county, Romania. It is famous for its colorful tombstones with native paintings describing, in an original and poetic manner, the persons that are buried there as well as scenes from their lives.” Looks like a fun place to visit if you’re ever in the area. Thanks to Ms Jukes for the suggestion.

Cemetery of the Capuchins

Cemetery of the Capuchins (Rome, Italy)

Chris wrote to recommend this unbelievably beautiful chapel which is decorated with the bones of Capuchin Monks. As described in the website linked to the left: “The crypt is located just under Santa Maria della Concezione, a church commissioned by Pope Urban XIII in 1626. The pope’s brother, Cardinal Antonio Barberini, who was of the Capuchin order, in 1631 ordered the remains of thousands of Capuchin monks exhumed and transferred from the friary Via dei Lucchesi to the crypt. The crypt now contains the remains of 4,000 monks buried between 1500-1870, during which time the Papal States permitted burial in and under churches. The underground crypt is divided into five chapels lit only by dim natural light seeping in through cracks, and small fluorescent lamps which cast strange shadows.” Definitely a must-see when in Rome!

Capuchins’ Catacombs

Capuchins’ Catacombs (Palermo, Italy)

In 1599, Capuchin monks made a shocking discovery while exhuming bodies from the catacombs of their monastery — many of the bodies had been naturally mummified. Following this discovery, the monks decided to mummify one of their own, and the Palermo townspeople soon joined in. Deceased members from all social classes were mummified and placed in these catacombs until the 1880s, when the practice of mummification was banned. But that didn’t stop the curious townspeople, as the last mummy was laid to rest here in 1920. As a result of this “mummification trend,” the catacombs of the Capuchin Monastery have become one of the largest, and most eerie, collections of mummified bodies in the world.
Thanks to Carolyn for the suggestion.


Pere Lachaise Cemetery

Pere Lachaise Cemetery (Paris, France)

The famous Parisian cemetery, chock full of literary luminaries such as Oscar Wilde, Moliere, and, er, Jim Morrison. Also of morbid note, in the eastern corner of the cemetery is the Mur des Fédérés, against which 147 Communards were shot at dawn on 28 May 1871, after their final resistance among the graves the night before. They were buried where they fell against the wall. The official website has a FANTASTIC virtual tour, which is the next best thing to being there. (Special thanks to Merrie for the suggestion.)

Denfert-Rochereau Ossuary

Denfert-Rochereau Ossuary (Paris, France)

Also known as the “Catacombs”: “Far below the city streets of Paris, in the quiet, damp darkness, seven million Parisians lie motionless. Their skeletons, long since dis-interred from the churchyard graves their survivors left them in, are neatly stacked and aligned to form the walls of nearly one kilometer of walking passage.”