Cemetery of Fernán Núñez

Cemetery of Fernán Núñez
The Fernán Núñez Municipal Cemetery (Córdoba, Spain), located at the highest point of this town, is the first cemetery of Spain‟s contemporary funeral architecture following Carlos III‟s royal decree in 1787 regarding burials.
A prototype cemetery of the Enlightenment, it conceals an intense history that emerged after a strong epidemic and a shipwreck. It was started by Carlos José Gutiérrez de los Ríos (1742-1795), VI count of Fernán Núñez and an example of an enlightened man. He was a Royal Councillor, Carlos III‟s biographer and the Spanish ambassador in Lisbon and Paris. He introduced the principles of the Enlightenment and the new neoclassical style to the province of Córdoba.

Examples of this style include the programs of improvement to his villa as well as the cemetery, which he designed. The project was developed with new rite and architectural typology. The new building, with a rectangular floor plan, was presided by a façade with four pillars and a triangular pediment that gave way to a chapel covered by a large dome. Behind it, a courtyard surrounded by columns for common graves was developed.

Finally, there was the space destined for the graves of distinguished people presided by the mausoleum of the House of Fernán Núñez, occupying the most prominent area. However, the work‟s sumptuousness and the crisis caused by the French Revolution, among other things, meant that only the perimeter wall and the main façade of the first cemetery of Spain could be constructed, which was then absorbed by the municipal extensions made from 1860 onwards.

Basic cultural data

Nationalities present in the cemetery: Spanish.
Religions present in the cemetery: Catholicism.

Other interesting aspects of the cemetery

The current Fernán Núñez cemetery has its origins in a terrible epidemic and a shipwreck. Between August 1785 and the spring of 1786 the town suffered a considerable reduction in its population due to an illness that cost the lives of about 800 people. Until then, burials had been done within the city, next to the church of Santa Marina de Aguas Santas. With this epidemic, the cemetery was not only insufficient but the situation worsened with the putrefaction of the corpses. These circumstances led to the provisional burials next to the hermitage of San Sebastián, patron saint against the plague, and the area that had also been used in 1680 during another epidemic. The area, outside the city and at the highest point, belonged to the House of Fernán Núñez and became the ideal place for the creation of the
future cemetery.

This new cemetery was initiated by Carlos José Gutiérrez de los Ríos (1742-1795), VI count of Fernán Núñez, in response to the continuous pleas of the inhabitants. The prototype of an enlightened man, he was a Royal Councillor for Carlos III, the king‟s biographer, the Spanish ambassador in Lisbon (1778-1787) and in Paris during the French Revolution (1787-1791) and personal friend of queen Marie Antoinette. He was known for being a highly cultured man, nourished by his extensive education and his constant trips throughout Europe where he got to know parts of Italy, France and England, being one of the first Spaniards who made the Grand Tour. These aspects were enough to shape the count‟s character, resulting in his introduction of the neoclassical style in Cordoba. The ducal palace of Fernán Núñez, next to the cemetery and other works, are some such examples.

A tragedy marked the beginning of the cemetery for Fernán Núñez: the shipwreck of the San Pedro de Alcántara ship, coming from Lima, off the coast of Peniche (Portugal) on 2nd February 1786. The ship had participated in the American War of Independence and, the shipment included 211,440 pesos in copper ingots and a crew of 419 people. The count of Fernán Núñez, who was the Spanish ambassador in Lisbon, was in charge of managing the rescue of the ship‟s property for the Consulate of Cádiz, which was its final destination. Thanks to the count‟s excellent management, it was possible to rescue practically all the goods.

The Consulate of Cádiz, in gratitude, awarded Carlos José with two paintings by the best landscapist of that time: Jean Pillement (Lyon, 1728-1808). One represented The shipwreck of the San Pedro de Alcántara ship1 and the other the Salvage of the treasures and were hung on a bar and rings of gold valued at 120,000 reales. At the reception of the works the count of Fernán Núñez, as a sign of humility, gave a ring that he had on his finger, which was worth more than 150 doubloons, in exchange. 

As the gold contained in the paintings was the result of a misfortune, he decided to invest it in charitable works. Previously, he had had the construction of a hospital and a cemetery for his village in mind, but they could not be carried out due to lack of money, so he allocated the amount of gold bars for this project according to the plans he had designed during his office as ambassador in Lisbon.

After the multiple epidemics that hit Spain, came Carlos III‟s Royal Decree on 3rd April 1787. This document changed the history of burials in this country, forcing burials to be done outside the villages, in ventilated places and using the hermitages that existed outside the towns as chapels. A declaration that seemed to be written by Carlos III‟s own Royal Councilor, Carlos José Gutiérrez de los Ríos, because in November 1786 he had already outlined his project, which he would place in a high, isolated spot on an existing hermitage: San Sebastián. By January 1787 he had finished the plans, inspired by Giuseppe Oglianico's Turin cemetery, in 1781, and the Pantheon in Rome.

Barely a month after the Royal Decree, before heading to his new office as ambassador in Paris, the count of Fernán Núñez would lay the first stone of his cemetery. The act took place on 5th May and he ordered that the following inscription be placed over his mausoleum: Decansan con los suyos („They rest with their relatives”).

To begin the work, he ordered the use of 70,000 of the 120,000 reales set aside for this purpose. The works took place between the aforementioned date, when the foundations were laid, up to 25th August 1790. Over the course of more than 3 years, 79,879.68 reales were invested, along with the sanctuary custodians‟ salaries established according to the foundation created for the cemetery.

During this period, the entire perimeter wall and the main façade must have been built, as the current measurements and their morphology coincide perfectly with the original project. In fact, on 29th May 1789, the master stonecutter Francisco Blázquez created a tombstone with an inscription that was placed in the portico of the hermitage of San Sebastián «facing the front door of the sacristan».

The latest registry books reflect a considerable decline in investment. This was due to the effects of the French Revolution. Carlos José Gutiérrez de los Ríos, as the Spanish ambassador in Paris since 1787, was an exceptional witness of that movement. He was a personal friend of the kings of France, so much so that his sons Luis and Antonio, twins, were baptized by the monarchs, receiving their names. With the arrival of the French Republic, his properties were seized and he was forced to flee to Leuven.

After an intense tour in Europe, he returned to Spain where he died on 23rd February 1795 aged 52. In order not to harm his children, he decided to suspend the cemetery's completion. In his will, he expressed his desire that his children continue the project following his plans.

Carlos Gutiérrez de los Ríos (1779-1822), his son and the first Duke of Fernán Núñez, cared more for his diplomatic career than for his county. So much so that in 1815 the sanctuary custodian was denied aid because the hermitage of San Sebastian was uninhabitable. In 1858 the state of conservation of the original cemetery was shameful. The hermitage was almost ruined, some parts of the wall had been demolished and the bodies uncovered. The City Council, meeting on 11th April 1858, decided to face the situation and restore the site.

Following a request made to the House of Fernán Núñez, in May 1859 the III Duke decided to give his property to the town, reserving a marked area [Image 6] for the construction of a ducal mausoleum, a project that was not carried out.

The cession deed was made on 1st March 1860, when the cemetery was taken over by the City Council thanks to the management of its mayor, Adolfo Darhán y Gastelú. From then onwards, the space was rehabilitated, based on the previous one, following the plans of Pedro Nolasco Meléndez.


Cemetery of Fernán Núñez

Cemetery of Fernán Núñez

Cemetery of Fernán Núñez


C.P. 14520

Fernán Núñez (Córdoba-Spain)

Contact details

Fernán Núñez City Council
Plaza de Armas, 5
C.P. 14520, Fernán Núñez (Córdoba)
Phone: 957 380 087 | Fax: 957 38 04 43