The Fernán Núñez Municipal Cemetery (Córdoba, Spain)

The Fernán Núñez Municipal Cemetery (Córdoba, Spain)
The Fernán Núñez Municipal Cemetery, located at the highest point of the town, is the first cemetery of Spain`s contemporary funeral architecture following Carlos III`s royal decree in 1787 regarding burials.

About 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 of the town, 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), the VI count of Fernán Núñez. An enlightened man, a Royal Councillor for Carlos III, the king`s biographer, the Spanish ambassador in Lisbon and in Paris during the French Revolution and a personal friend of the 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. These aspects were enough to shape the count`s character, resulting in his introduction of the neoclassical style in Córdoba. The ducal palace of Fernán Núñez, next to the cemetery and other works, are such examples.

The shipwreck

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 with rings of gold valued at 120.000 reales. When receiving 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, Carlos José 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 projects according to the plans he had designed during his time as an ambassador in Lisbon.

The Royal Decree

After the multiple epidemics that hit Spain, Carlos III`s Royal Decree regarding burials was released 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 Royal Councilor, Carlos José Gutiérrez de los Ríos itself, because in November 1786 he had already outlined his project of the cemetery. According to this plans, the cemetery would be placed in a high, isolated hermitage - San Sebastián. By January 1787 he had finished the plans, inspired by Giuseppe Oglianico's Turin cemetery and the Pantheon in Rome.

Construction of a cemetery

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 reales were invested, along with the sanctuary custodians`s 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 French Revolution

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 his sons Luis and Antonio, twins, were baptized by the monarchs, receiving their names. But 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 his will, he expressed his desire that his children continue the project following his plans.

The decay of the cemetery and its revival

Carlos Gutiérrez de los Ríos (1779-1822), Carlos José Gutiérrez de los Ríos`s 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 for the construction of a ducal mausoleum, a project that was never 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, following the plans of Pedro Nolasco Meléndez.


Fernán Núñez City Council
Plaza de Armas, 5
C.P. 14520, Fernán Núñez (Córdoba)

Phone: 957 380 087
Fax: 957 38 04 43