“The life of the dead is set in the memory of the living. The love you gave in life keeps people alive beyond their time. Anyone who was given love will always live on in another’s heart.” Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 BC – 43 BC)
Death is a sensitive topic that many people would rather forget exists but it is however the only certain thing that will happen to everyone at one point in their life. It seems that most western cultures associate anything to do with death as morbid and therefore a stroll around a cemetery isn’t exactly on their to-do list when visiting another city. However, I can’t actually think of a better way to discover a city than to visit a cemetery; it is after all, the resting place of all the people that have left their own, small or large, mark on the city. Wandering through the peaceful aisles I can’t stop myself from imagining who these people that rest in eternal peace were and how deeply they must be missed but it also reminds me that I am lucky to be alive and we should grab life by the horns because, one day, out of the blue, I too, will be no more.
The Cementerio General de Valencia (General Cemetery of Valencia) was established in 1805 after it became illegal to bury the dead in ones parish cemetery within the city. It has been extended many times throughout history and nowadays it is so big that I’ve never managed to see it all. To help guide you through its endless aisles and different sections you can download a free app so that you don’t get lost and also locate the most noteworthy graves and mausoleums. Unfortunately, it is only available in either Spanish or Valencian but even if you don’t understand one of these languages it is still useful. Alternatively, you can just visit this website (also only available in Spanish or Valencian) and plan ahead. In addition, there is also the possibility of a guided tour on Saturdays but you need to book in advance by phoning 963525478 Extension 2565 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.orgThe website (and app) offers four different itineraries around the cemetery:
1) 18 Vidas, 18 Silencios (18 lives, 18 Silences): This is the most comprehensive itinerary which guides you not only to the burial sites of some important people but also through the different sections such as the first 80 niches, the colonnade of 170 Doric columns, Civil Cemetery and also explains some of the symbolisms found in the cemetery.
2) Mujeres que dejaron huella (Women who left a mark): 6 women who left a mark including Virginia Dotres (a poetess who died at 15), Emilia (girlfriend of a Valencian actor and their love story), Luisa Esperón (one of the first female professional photographers), Marquesa de San Juan (a Marchioness who after becoming depressed tended to a garden which later became known as the Jardines de Monforte, one of the best Gardens now open to the public), Lucrecia Bori (world famous Valencian soprano who was known as a diva in Italy and died in New York in 1960), & Amparo Melià (married to Pablo Iglesias, founder of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party called PSOE).
3) Personajes ilustres (Influential People): Marqués de Cruïlles (A Marquis who was a famous historian who died in 1895), Marqués de Campo (A Marquis who was a financier and politician who died in 1899), Joaquin Sorolla (the most famous Valencian painter who died in 1923), Juan Bautista Romeo (A Marquis who bought a garden so that his wife could tend to it after she became depressed after losing their son; it became the Jardines de Monforte), Genaro Lahuerta López (a Valencian painter who died in 1985), Rafael Olóriz y Martínez (A lawyer who left in his will all his money so that schools could be built for the poor), Marqués de Sotelo (A Valencian politician and soldier who became the Mayor of Valencia from 1927 and 1930), Juan Gil-Albert Simón (A poet and essayist who died in 1994), Maximiliano Thous Orts (A journalist, film director, playwright and poet who is most famous for writing the regional hymn of Valencia), Salvador Tuset Tuset (A painter who died in 1951), Antonio García Peris (The father of Valencian photographers who died in 1918), Constantí Llombart (A writer and one of the promoters of the Valencian Renaissance who died in 1893), Vicente Blasco Ibañez (A journalist, politician and probably most famous best-selling novelist whose works were even adapted into Hollywood films) & Alfredo Calderón (An educator who founded the Free Educational Institution and died in 1907).
4) Personajes populares (Popular People): Salvador Giner Vidal (Beloved musician and composer who died in 1911), Lucrecia Bori (world famous Valencian soprano who was known as a diva in Italy and died in New York in 1960), Rafael Conde ‘El Titi’ (A rather camp singer who is best known for this song in defence of homosexuality called Libérate, or Free Yourself. He was named adopted son of Valencia), Nino Bravo (a very famous singer who was famous also outside of Spain and died tragically in 1973 at 28), Vicent Peydró Diez (A student of musician Salvador Giner Vidal and author of Zarzuelas who died in 1938), Toreros Aparici (Two bullfighting brothers who both died during bullfights, one in 1897 and the other in 1899) & Manuel Granero (one of the most famous Valencian bullfighters who died during a bullfight).If you are visiting as a tourist I recommend entering via the main entrance as the other 3 are more for people who want to visit their dearly departed. Once you go through the main entrance you are met with a central aisle (section 1 & 2) where the oldest mausoleums can be found on either side. The first mausoleum was built in 1850 and soon thereafter the rest of the Valencian bourgeoisie imitated this type of highly decorated mausoleum as a statement of their economic power and status. On the right-hand side of this central aisle there are a few mausoleums that I love such as the Monterde Tejada Family Mausoleum built in eclectic style and considered as medieval fantasy, Moroder Family Mausoleum with an angel holding open a door and inviting whoever wants to enter its crypt protected by two guardians of death and also a mausoleum in the shape of a replica Romanesque church. On this side there are also numerous mausoleums which would appeal to those who are interested in Contemporary Architecture. Personally, I don’t find them visually appealing at all and actually remind me of those ghastly contemporary houses that were built when people seemed to go mad about concrete. That said, they are still quite interesting to see but I certainly wouldn’t be happy to rest in eternal peace in one of those architectural aberrations.Let’s move on to the left-hand side of the central aisle where most of my favourite mausoleums are located. As I am an Ancient Egyptian aficionado it won’t come as a surprise that my favourite mausoleum is a Neo-Egyptian pyramid built in 1883 belonging to the Llovera family. There is also an interesting and rare Masonic grave that belongs to the Julian Mezquita family that deserves a visit as it features a triangle with the All Seeing Eye which is so characteristic of this secret society. On this same side but further up (section 3) there is a colonnade with 170 columns of the Doric order and a monumental cross dedicated to the victims of cholera epidemics that swept across Valencia in the 19th Century. In the porticos of these columns there are a myriad of old niches that are much nicer than the modern style niches and in the centre of the colonnade there are many fascinating tombs. In this section there are fewer mausoleums but there is a larger variety of statues especially of angels.Following the Law of Freedom of Thought, the Civil Cemetery (section 4) was opened in 1892, where the remains of freethinkers were interred. Perhaps the most famous tomb in this section is that of Vicente Blasco Ibañez. His tombstone reads: “I want to rest in the most modest Valencian cemetery by the ‘mare nostrum’ that filled my spirit with ideals: I want my body to be confused with this land of Valencia which is the love of all my loves”. In this section there are also a few interesting Jewish burials which can be easily identified as they all have a Magen David etched into the tombstones.In the top corner of Section 14 there is a small muslim cemetery and outside the main entrance of the General Cemetery of Valencia there is a British Protestant Cemetery which is a misleading name as it actually contains people from 21 nationalities and some are not even Protestant but Catholic, Anglican and Jewish. Both of these cemeteries, however, are closed to the public.The majority of the rest of the cemetery is made up of neverending aisles of modern day niches belonging to the dearly departed of those who have died more recently. These niches may not be the most interesting to visit as they are not great works of art but sometimes it is fascinating to wander through these “streets” and wonder what stories all these people could tell if they could do so.
You might be interested to know that there are many public toilets inside the cemetery, there is a large cat colony within the grounds complete with a Crazy Cat Lady and there is also a bar right next to the cemetery where you can have a drink or some food. They have a daily menu (Mon – Fri) for 8€.
I thought I’d leave you with some facepalms and the most creepy tombs in this cemetery. Don’t have any nightmares…
Where: Calle Santo Domingo de Guzman. Metro stop: Safranar or Sant Isidre. EMT Bus: Number 10
Opening times: Mon – Sat: 9.00am – 6.00pm / Saturdays and Bank Holidays: 9.00am – 2.00pm
Price range: Free