Urban cemeteries as public spaces: comparison of the Norwegian and Russian case studies

Contemporary cemeteries are intriguing examples of “in-between” places with no clear cut between public and private, civic and personal.
Nordre cemetery in Oslo

Vćr Frelsers cemetery in Oslo

Planners and policy makers often see urban cemeteries as utilitarian burial grounds. However, evidence from different countries demonstrate that their role is more complex. The findings of a Norwegian research projects “Green Urban Spaces – the role of the cemetery in multicultural and interreligious urban contexts” (2014-2017) show that the cemeteries in Oslo are actively used for recreation and perceived by many of their users as green places of restoration. Is such cemetery multifunctionality just a Norwegian phenomenon or we can find similarities in other cultures?

Østre cemetery in OsloFor the comparison, this paper brings empirical evidences from Vvedenskoe cemetery (opened in 1771) in the Russian capital in Moscow. The study partly replicates the above-mentioned Norwegian study adapted to the context of Moscow and employs systematic observations of people’s activities, participant observations and interviews with cemetery visitors. Among many other cemeteries in Moscow, I chose Vvedenskoe cemetery for this study because of its close proximity to housing areas, physical layout with two entrances and comparatively wide alleys and mature vegetation.

Vvedenskoe cemetery in Moscow

Vvedenskoe cemetery in MoscowThe results show that people come to Vvedenskoe cemetery not only to visit their relatives’ graves, although it is the main activity there and more common comparing to the Norwegian case. Thanks to the big amount of heritage graves and special spiritual atmosphere Vvedenskoe cemetery is an attractive place for excursions, especially focused on arts and history. For many of the interviewees this cemetery was included into their everyday life as a place for strolling and reflections, which is similar to the findings from Oslo. Another important aspect for the visitors is the greenery of Vvedenskoe cemetery, which provides an opportunity of the contact with nature for the local residents. The Norwegian researchers had similar observations in case of Oslo. While the range and frequency of recreational activities in Vvedenskoe cemetery is lower than in the studied cemeteries in Norway, the findings clearly show that its role in the city is not limited to the utilitarian functions of a burial ground.

So far academic research of the role of urban cemeteries was focused on Northern Europe and North America and cross-cultural comparative cemetery research almost does not exist, except very few examples. In times of globalisation, cemeteries are among very small number of urban places, which are so culturally and contextually dependent and vary greatly from country to country. On the contrary, to many comparative studies in other fields, which aim to find generalised knowledge and best practices, comparative cemetery research cannot have the same goal because of the importance of the local context. However, I believe that it can give deeper and more nuanced understanding of a cemetery as a phenomenon and its potential. Policymakers and practitioners around the world are starting to acknowledge cemeteries’ multifunctional potential which is especially relevant for fast growing cities with increasing demand for green spaces, such as Oslo and Copenhagen. 

About the author

Pavel Grabalov is a PhD Candidate at the Faculty of Landscape and Society of the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU). He holds a Master’s degree in Urban Studies from Malmö University (2017) and has interests in urban planning and people-environment interaction. His current PhD project focuses on the role of cemeteries in contemporary densified cities. Pavel’s research aims to build new interdisciplinary knowledge on urban cemeteries as a special type of public spaces, using case studies from Scandinavian and Russian cultural contexts.

The above article has been prepared for the ASCE Conference 2019 in Ghent, Belgium. The article-related presentation is available HERE.

You can read more about Pavel Grabalov’s academic research on new cemetery policies in Oslo and Copenhagen in: Pavel Grabalov, Helena Nordh, “’Philosophical park’: Cemeteries in the Scandinavian urban context”, Social Studies, Vol. 17:1, https://journals.muni.cz/socialni_studia/article/view/13559

Mirogoj on the “Most Endangered” list

Monumental Cemetery Mirogoj
The Ministry of Culture and Media of Croatia nominated the Cemetery Complex of Mirogoj to the 7 Most Endangered Programme 2021.

Monumental Cemetery Mirogoj

Monumental Cemetery Mirogoj, founded in 1876, is one of the most representative monuments in the city of Zagreb. With its unique architecture and numerous historical figures and Croatian personalities buried there, this cemetery has become a place visited by many domestic and foreign visitors.

The 7 Most Endangered Programme 2021

On March 2020, the city of Zagreb was hit by an extremely strong earthquake, which caused severe damage to the Cemetery Complex of Mirogoj. In addition, severe rains and the COVID-19 pandemic situation made it impossible to start renovations and repairs. So the Ministry of Culture and Media of Croatia nominated the Cemetery Complex of Mirogoj to the 7 Most Endangered Programme 2021 - a civil society campaign that identifies endangered monuments and sites in Europe and mobilizes public and private partners on a local, national and European level to find a viable future for those sites.

Cemetery Complex of Mirogoj is now one of the 12 European heritage sites shortlisted for this programme. And maybe to have a place on the "Most Endangered" list does not seem a position to be envied for. But it should be. Because not only that with this nomination, the first step was made to protect and rehabilitate this special site. This nomination also symbolizes the awareness and recognition of high level cultural values of Mirogoj Cemetery and European cemeteries in general. 

For that we congratulate the Monumental Cemetery of Mirogoj and wish them a fast recovery!

SunCemet photo exhibition

SunCemet photo exhibition main
When special moments come together, a special journey of experiences is created. Full of memories and secrets.

Warm sun beams help us read the stories, written in the stones. 

Hear laughter and an echo of joy. Feel love and heroism. 

On this digital journey we caught the light sparkling through European cemeteries. More than 50 authors from 16 countries shared the sun beams with us. With a vivid palette of sun colors they are discovering the memories of life. 

You are kindly invited to view the exhibition. 

All Saints' Day

Deep within our culture is the All Saints' Day pilgrimage. This year, let's make it an All Saints' month.

As Europe is facing one of the worst months of the 2020 pandemic, we are sure it will not change our strongest values, beliefs and piety. Taking care of the cemeteries and tombstones is about maintaining our relationship with the deceased. Loved ones we keep in our memories.

Yet we have to be aware that going out in the crowds contributes to the danger of rising infections.

Thus we call on all our members, friends and colleagues to invite people in extending this year’s All Saints’ Day habits to a full month. Instead of visiting the cemetery on November 1st, do it on the 2nd, 3rd or 15th or 30th. Use the number that is strongly associated with your relationship to the deceased. Their birthday, their wedding day.

Yet again, do it if your local recommendations, rules and measures allow it. Retain our habits, our dedication to preserve and protect the memories resting in the cemeteries.

The relationship we keep with our ancestors is our future.

Lidija Pliberšek, M. Sc.

ASCE president

Photoceramic portraits, an unsuspected cultural heritage

Photoceramics was born in France in 1854 as a decorating technique for pottery. Soon, it became a simple but notable way to portray the dead on their tombs.

Participate at the new photo exhibition: SunCemet

SunCemet photo exhibition main
Any walk among the significant cemeteries of Europe reveals it. The unexpected touches of humanity. Fragile and emotional, yet strong and rational.

Each day, even through the thickest clouds of gray, our brightest star shines on them. Touching the memories, written in the stones. Warming the curves of art with the colors of sincerity.

Catching light in the moment of unique peacefulness speaks its own story about the European cemeteries.

It is what we want to explore in our new photo exhibition.

Send us your SunCemets

May they be sunsets or sunrises, either noon or cloudy sparks. Send us what your cemetery looks like in those special moments.

Most special ones will be printed and presented in a photo exhibition at Dobrava cemetery in Maribor. All appropriate will be part of an online photo book.

  • October 20th for printed photo exhibition
  • November 15th for the online photo book
All photos must be provided under license CC0. All photos will be available to the members of ASCE for download and reprint.

How do you participate? Use this form to upload the photos.

Online AGM 2020

Online AGM 2020
In times of distance we are stepping closer together again. Following many discussions this year with you, our dear members, friends and colleagues, we have prepared and performed several activities.

While the overall situation prevented us to organize another great AGM, we have decided to respond with rethinking and redesigning some of the basic processes. From database to communications and scientific core, ASCE is getting ready to be even more connected in the future.

Using the glue of our common European values to keep us on the mission of preserving and promoting European cemeteries.

Online AGM 2020

Due to the current measures across Europe we have postopned the AGM in Milano, preparing a shorter online AGM.

Online Annual General Meeting will take place on October 7th 2020 at 10:00 AM with live broadcasting.

To join the online meeting, please click here.

Upcoming events at the English Cemetery in Florence

English Cemetery in Florence
Check out the dates of some interesting events that will take place at the English Cemetery in Florence, Italy.

September 24, 2020 at 17.30

Celebrating the bicentenary of the Vieusseux cabinet foundation  at the Tomb of Giovan Pietro Vieusseux

September 25, 2020 at 19.30

Projection of the film “Babette’s Feast” from Isak Dinesen at the cemetery.

October 1, 2020 at 18.00

“Lectura Dantis” - Paradise, Song XXXII-XXXIII, with dinner at the Trattoria 'Il Pennello', at the true “House of Dante” (via Dante Alighieri, Florence). Reservations at: juliananchoress@gmail.com

100 years of The Woodland Cemetery

The Woodland Cemetery
Skogskyrkogården, the Woodland Cemetery, celebrates its 100th anniversary, and 25 years as a World heritage site, with a new exhibition.

This outdoor (and online) exhibition, that is located at the main entrance of the Woodland Cemetery, showcases the 100 year history since its consecration to the future and coming renovations. It also remembers thousands of cemetery workers and others who contributed to its formation and functioning.

The outdoor exhibition will be on display from September 19 to November 1, 2020. The admission is free.

You can find more information about the exhibition HERE.

*Photo by Susanne Hallmann.

Virtual Guide to the Zadar City Cemetery

Zadar mobile app
City Cemetery of Zadar has its own mobile application.

On the occasion of the 200th anniversary of existence of the City Cemetery of Zadar, the company Nasadi wanted to mark the jubilee and created a mobile application called "Virtual Guide to the Zadar City Cemetery", which is now available on the Google play platform.

This application is a kind of guide that in one place presents the history of the cemetery and the significant people and sights that give the cemetery its historical and cultural importance. The app also has several suggested routes to important people, all accompanied by location views, photos and sound recordings

The application is free for all users, and its release will continue to be upgraded and supplemented with information and, according to the needs of users, develop new options and improve existing ones, as well as introduce an English translation. The virtual guide marked the anniversary of the cemetery, but also follows trends in technology, which would make it easier for visitors to visit the City Cemetery in a different and modern way.