Saturday, 30 January 2010

A dead nice Saturday afternoon!

A gloriously sunny Saturday afternoon in Madrid seemed like the perfect opportunity to head out to the Cementerio de Neustra Senora de la Almudena (link in Spanish), in the east of the city. Debbie had been meaning to go for ages and hadn't quite made it, despite it being walking distance from her flat, so along with Krisztina, we had a lazy hot chocolate and cake then headed down there, via an impromptu street market where the pirate DVD merchants vied with the old ladies selling lemons, in amongst the actual stalls of clothes.

It's apparently 160 times the size of a football pitch (that doesn't help me at all with my girly spatial awareness problem) - but needless to say, it's HUGE! It covers about 120 hectares and there are approximately 5 million people buried there, not including those in the civil/Jewish cemetery across the road. It was founded in 1884 and was the principal cemetery for the city until 1973 when the Cementerio del Sur in Carabanchel started to be used.

The main entrance is very imposing, which is appropriate given the size of the place. Having seen no warning signs, we were a bit surprised when a guard came over to tell us that we couldn't take photos in the cemetery unless we'd got a permit from the office in advance. Suitably chastened, we apologised, kept walking and as soon as we were out of his sight, started snapping!

The first area is laid out like a Greek cross, with a mix of old and new necropoleis (yes, I checked, that's the plural of necropolis!) and more modern tombs, but no mausolea. However, the further we walked, the older it got until we made it to the much older areas with a Gothic feel. That's what I'd been expecting. Having been to La Cimetiére de Pére Lachaise in Paris, I was looking forward to lots of gloomy stone angels etc, and the older area didn't disappoint. We barely saw anyone else all afternoon and the whole place was very peaceful and relaxing, with a pervading smell of pine trees. On the far side, there's a memorial to "Las Trece Rosas" - dedicated to the 13 young women (7 of them children), members of the Unified Socialist Youth, who were executed there (along with 43 men) on 5th August 1939 by a Francoist firing squad as part of a massive execution campaign.

Once we'd spent about 4 hours wandering around the main part, we headed across the road to the civil/Jewish section where there was a real mixture of graves. Many of them were people who had been born outside Spain, but had died in Madrid, but there were also a large number of historical figures, literary, musical and artistic. The main thing we noticed in this section was the prevalence of Socialist symbolism (hammers and sickles, red flowers) and a lot of Freemasons. A magazine article explained that many of those buried there had been deemed unworthy of a place in the main cemetery due to religious or political reasons.

The day had been kind - bright blue skies, warm sun, none of us got arrested for taking photos, but finally it started to get chilly and we left the peace and quiet to head back towards town for a well-earned beer and then home.

My photos are HERE

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