Travel Tips From the Other Side

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When planning a holiday, we tend to consult our friends, family, a guide book or a destination specialist. They can offer a true and relevant idea of a destination – the latest bars, restaurants and the best beaches. But what about the history of a destination? To get a real feel for the past, sometimes we need to look to those with a little more experience…

Ghost tours, while often gimmicky, can be a fun and fascinating way to get to the guts of a place. Although spiritual encounters may be few and far between, the historical picture painted by these figures from the dim and distant past can be very real. A Jack the Ripper tour in London, for example, will transport you to the gritty streets of Victorian East London fearing for your life. A tour of the former quarantine station in Sydney will leave you feeling the tainted breath of Australia’s dying immigrants on your skin.

Then there are the rites and rituals of a place that incorporate its dead. Perhaps the most well known of these is Mexico’s Day of the Dead – a surprisingly upbeat celebration of those that have passed on and return for the three day festival, welcomed by family and friends with their favourite snacks and music. This colourful fiesta coincides with Halloween, celebrated around the world in a variety of ways, but most famously with pumpkins, bright green witches and vampires with fangs dripping with blood.

But perhaps the most concrete places for a glimpse into a destination’s past are its cemeteries. Rich in history, cemeteries are filled with stories of the lives of people that once lived in a destination. Sometimes it can be the lives of famous people that bring a place to life, other times it can be the stories of the ordinary people that can truly illuminate a destination and its past.

Here, we round up five of the world’s cemeteries that are well worth a look:

1. Highgate Cemetery, London, UK

During the early 1800s, London was a city of just one million people. But rapid population growth saw the city fast become crowded, as did its burial places. Graveyards were squeezed in wherever there was space, with many graves hastily dug and bodies barely wrapped. As a result, Parliament ordered seven new private cemeteries be built around the capital. Highgate, built in 1839, was one of these and it soon became the capital’s principal cemetery due to its landscaping and unique architecture.

Perhaps the most famous person to be laid to rest at Highgate Cemetery is philosopher Karl Marx who died in 1883, but there are many other reasons to visit this fascinating slice of London.

2. Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France

Said to be the world’s most visited cemetery, Père Lachaise Cemetery, is most famously known as the final resting place of The Doors frontman Jim Morrison and author and playwright Oscar Wilde. But they are just two of the 70,000 elaborate graves to be found within the 44-hectare garden. Other notable burial sites include composer Chopin, playwright Molière, a number of writers including Balzac, Proust and Colette, as well as singer Edith Piaf and painters Pissarro and Modigliani.

Here you’ll also find memorials commemorating the deaths of those who fell in battle as well as those of the insurgents that rose against the government in 1871 only to meet a bloody end.

3. Cementerio de la Recoleta, Buenos Aires, Argentina

La Recoleta Cemetery, located in Buenos Aires’ well-off residential area of Recoleta, is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful in the world. Here you’ll find the tomb of actress turned First Lady Eva Peron, along with a number of other historically interesting figures.

4. Waverley Cemetery, Sydney, Australia

Located atop a spectacular cliff with panoramic coastal views stretching from Clovelly to Bronte, the Waverley Cemetery is certainly a sight to behold.

Opened in 1877, the cemetery is home to a number of largely intact Victorian and Edwardian monuments including the graves of many significant Australians including poet Henry Lawson and first ever Prime Minister of Australia, Sir Edmund Barton.

The cemetery was also used in the filming of 1979 film Tim which starred Mel Gibson.

5. South Park Street Cemetery, Kolkata, India

Back in the 19th century, during the days of the Raj, South Park Street Cemetery in Kolkata was one of the largest Christian cemeteries outside Europe and North America.

Opened in 1767 and actively used until the 1830s, the eight-acre site is home to 1900 graves which vary significantly in architectural styles ranging from European gothic to classical.

Wander among the tombs and you’ll come across some important figures from those colonial days. For example, Sir William Jones who founded the Asiatic Society and whose memorial obelisk is the tallest structure to be found among the haunting tropical undergrowth.

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