Travel Blog: Morning at the Graveyard (Cemiterio dos Prazeres, Lisbon, Portugal)

Morning At The Graveyard (Lisbon, Portugal)

Who knew graveyards closed?!  Yesterday, we arrived 10 minutes after 5pm, and they wouldn’t let us in.  So this morning, we got up early and bused it over for opening time. It was a cold and brisk morning, but so worth getting up early to get there before any other visitors.  

This graveyard might be typical of Portugal (I assume it is) but it’s very different from a Canadian graveyard. There was no grass. Instead it was like streets lined with tiny houses. The tombs varied immensely from one to the next – some huge and ornate, while others literally just looked like globs of concrete.

It was a bit eerie at times, but fascinating too. I think we must have spent 2 hours there, just taking it all in and trying to decipher certain monuments.

Some streets were lined with trees, others weren’t.

The graveyard was set atop a mountain and wonderful views of the city could be had from various points. Some areas were quite steep and you had to take stairs. Though these “streets” were paved, there were no cars allowed in.

Official name: Cemiterio dos Prazeres, Lisbon (Translation: Cemetey of ‘Pleasures’)​

The doors were often glass, and hanging in front was a curtain, usually lace. Sometimes, it was broken and you could see inside and actually see the caskets. (Which were often also covered with lace.) 

I didn’t get too close to the “open” tombs – and definitely didn’t peer inside the one where the casket was falling off the shelf – as had happened at least a couple of times that I could see.

I later found out that this cemetery was created in 1833 after the outbreak of a cholera epidemic in Lisbon and they needed a new place to bury the dead in a short amount of time. That would possibly explain the large number of infant sized coffins I saw. I didn’t look for the dates as I didn’t know at the time what had happened.

This is a partial view of the “25 de Abril” bridge in Lisbon, which looks remarkably similar to the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco, although it was designed by a different American company.

This was one of the first areas we visited. If I remember correctly, I think firefighters are buried here, but since I don’t read Portuguese, I am sort of guessing. Someone please correct me if I’m wrong. 

From what I gathered, they often depicted the person’s death on their tomb (rather than telling about their life, as we do in Canada). They seemed to show a lot more grief in their statues, a lot of skeletons and not many angels, like I am used to. There was also no shortage of stray cats roaming around.

Though many look very similar, there are many very unique structures too.. Above left looks like a church while the middle looks like a giant lava rock or a blob of cement (strangely, there were many like this), and the right photo looks like a castle. Below is the largest tomb I saw which seemed to belong to one family.

Above: I’m not sure what this building was. It was within the cemetery gates so I assumed a place where they hold funerals or cremations. 

Above: Interestingly (or sadly), in between these “streets” they buried people in the ground with small headstones, which you would never know existed unless you squeezed through between two of the houses and around behind.

Below: what you see hidden behind the street above.  Maybe these are the people without much money…

Time flew by (which tends to happen when I have a camera in my hand) and before I knew it we’d been there 2 hours. The crisp morning air had disappeared and we found ourselves among tourists and a few locals coming to pay their respects. It was time to catch the train back to town and find a place for lunch!

If you’re ever in Lisbon, I highly recommend you add this place to your must-see list.

And that’s the end of the road, folks. Thanks for reading!

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