Beyond The Grave #3: Highgate Cemetery

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Is it strange, when visiting a vibrant city, to seek out the local dead? Why do cemeteries – full of old stones and ancient history - attract so many modern travelers? Momondo asked our city bloggers to unearth an explanation and give us the low-down on the neighborhood necropolis. You'll read about the best burials in Berlin, the most entertaining interments in Prague, the graves of American heroes in New York and a cemetery with a magnificant view of Istanbul plus tips on what JP Sartre likes on his Paris grave and about Soeren Kierkegaard's and Karl Marx's last resting places in Copenhagen and London. Are you ready to go beneath the surface?

Highgate Cemetery 

A dreaded sunny day so I’ll meet you at the cemetery gates” as Morrissey famously sang. It wasn’t that sunny but I had arranged to meet my old friends Anna and James and head to Highgate Cemetery.

Perhaps foolishly considering that it is located at the top of the steepest hill in London, we decided to cycle. By the time we got to the top of the hill we were all bathed in sweat despite the November weather. I thought I was going to be sick with exhaustion so Anna suggested a visit to The Flask for chips and ultra strong cider.

Suitably fortified, we headed to the cemetery, paid the small entrance fee and went inside. I should not have been surprised considering how much my legs hurt but Highgate Cemetery really is very high up indeed. The views of the distant city below are breathtaking.

This view and the graves of the famous are why most people come here, the biggest names are Karl Marx and George Eliot, but it is the things that you find for yourself that really appeal: the grave that says that nothing about who resides there except that he was a lawyer, the headless angels, the pink granite mausoleums and the way the grave stones battle with the trees and seem to be losing - a wonderful metaphor for life overcoming death.

All these combine elements create a magical air; it is as if the dead are not beyond our grasp. Here religious differences are forgotten, Muslims lie alongside Christians. There is even a combined Jewish/ Christian grave with a joint headstone in English and Hebrew for an interfaith marriage. Most poignantly, the husband is yet to join his Jewish wife.

There is something about solemnity that brings out the naughty schoolboy in me, and in James and Anna too. Initially we swore and made silly remarks but Highgate is so moving and so strange that we were very quickly stunned into a contemplative silence.

HIGHGATE CEMETERY; Swain's Lane; Hampstead; London. 

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by Henry Castiglione 25. Dec 2008
Henry Castiglione » London » Go See & Do
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