Top 5 Historical Cemeteries

Cemeteries are often a precise physical representation of the cultural, religious, and artistic beliefs of every historical period. Occasionally, preconceptions or stereotypes position cemeteries as sometimes sad or even creepy places, but cemeteries can be beautiful sites of both national and personal history. 

The following five cemeteries are a glimpse into the past for any history buff. While they aren’t currently active for burials today, they are important pieces of history that remind us not to forget where we came from. 

Top 5 Historical Cemeteries

1. Myles Standish Burial Ground – Duxbury, Massachusetts, USA

According to the American Cemetery Association, the Myles Standish Burial Ground is the oldest maintained cemetery in the United States. This small, beautiful space is the resting place for some of the first pilgrims who arrived on the Mayflower. 

Perhaps the most famous of these is the cemetery’s namesake, Myles Standish, who was the captain of the Mayflower. You can also see the resting places of other important Pilgrims like John and Priscilla Alden, and Ichabod Wiswall – the third minister of the Duxbury church. 

The Myles Standish Burial Ground is also known as the Old Burying Ground and the Standish Cemetery. The cemetery lies in the town of Duxbury, Massachusetts, which was settled by the Plymouth colony in 1627. If you find yourself in this historic part of Massachusetts, steep yourself in some of America’s earliest history with a visit.

This historic cemetery has been maintained by many entities over the years and is now taken care of by the Town of Duxbury. The only original building maintained on the cemetery grounds was the Duxbury Meeting House, where pilgrims gathered for religious and public meetings. The Myles Standish Burial Ground was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2015. 

2. Greyfriars Kirkyard – Edinburgh, Scotland

Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh, Scotland, is both serene and slightly eerie, especially when you know its history. Some people think of it as the most haunted cemetery in the world, but others see it as a beautiful glimpse into the rich history of a great nation. 

With rows of time-washed gray monuments and surrounded by beautiful old-growth trees, this cemetery is located at the southern end of Edinburgh’s picturesque Old Town. Greyfriars started laying people to rest in the late 16th century, in a churchyard that replaced the one at the legendary St. Giles’ Cathedral. 

Although there are some gruesome stories associated with Greyfriars that led to rumors of ghosts throughout the centuries, there are uplifting stories, too. The most famous story is of Greyfriars Bobby – a loyal Skye Terrier who guarded his beloved master’s resting place for 14 years. 

Greyfriars is the perfect place to immerse yourself in history on a beautiful spring day. Walk the tree-lined pathways and explore the hundreds of historic mural monuments. Some particular sites to look out for are the Italianate monument to Sir George Mackenzie, and the Martyrs Monument. 

3. Highgate Cemetery – London, England

Highgate Cemetery is a historic burial ground and unofficial nature reserve in north London. Because of London’s rich recorded history, it is part of the “Magnificent Seven” cemeteries around the city, which consist of Kensal Green, West Norwood, Highgate, Abney Park, Brompton, Nunhead and Tower Hamlets. Highgate Cemetery, opened in 1839 and is dedicated to St. James by the Lord Bishop of London, is arguably the most famous and beautiful of the seven.

In Victorian times, passing on to the next life was seen as something to be honored. Wealthy Londoners took care to create ornate and regal Gothic buildings for their loved ones. 

Many of these beautiful structures can still be seen today at Highgate. The grounds of the cemetery are covered in trees, wildflowers, and other foliage, all of which have grown naturally over the years. 

The cemetery is open every day of the year, and knowledgeable historians lead tours around the historic site. Showing the resting places of some of the many famous people laid to rest there.

4. Père Lachaise Cemetery – Paris, France

The beautiful and romantic Père Lachaise Cemetery is the oldest cemetery and first garden cemetery in Paris. It is the most visited burial ground in the world, with 3.5 million tourists walking its many paths every year to take in the history and see the many celebrities laid to rest there. 

Napoleon opened and established the cemetery in 1804 as a place for everyone in Paris to be laid to rest. He famously said that “every citizen has the right to be buried regardless of race and religion”.

In a country and region with a great deal of religious and ethnic tensions, Napoleon’s vision was realized, and there are still historic sections of the burial ground for Christian, Jewish, and Muslim patrons, as well as secular sections.

Some of the most famous people laid to rest at Père Lachaise are Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, Marcel Proust, Oscar Wilde, and Sarah Bernhardt. 

The cemetery has also been featured in many films and songs, including the show Emily in Paris, and the movies Amelie and Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

5. Old Jewish Cemetery – Prague, Czech Republic

The Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague, Czech Republic is a must-visit for anyone interested in European history. No one knows exactly when the cemetery was established, but its oldest visible grave is of the rabbi and poet Avigdor Kara, who was laid to rest in 1439. 

Because of the often violent history in Eastern Europe, this cemetery is not in the same pristine condition as the others on this list. Nevertheless, the history of the site and the surrounding area is beautiful in its own right. 

Some people might find this Jewish cemetery strange because it is somewhat unkempt and the monuments are laid out fairly haphazardly. However, the reasons behind this are part of  interesting and sentimental religious and cultural practices. 

Jewish tradition indicates that you cannot abandon any gravesite, even if the people laid to rest there have no living relatives. Because of this, this cemetery has layers of gravesites on top of each other. While this may create an unusual appearance to the cemetery, it also means that no one is laid to rest alone. 

Visitors to this historic site can see the true layers of history, and gravestones with Hebrew letters and a variety of symbols. 

Hollywood Forever Cemetery – Hollywood, California, USA 

We would be remiss not to mention our own beautiful cemetery. At Hollywood Forever, we offer much to explore as our grounds are some of the most tranquil and iconic in the world. Founded in 1899, Hollywood Forever quickly became the cemetery of choice for Hollywood founders and stars. The functioning cemetery and mortuary offers lawn spaces, cremation services, cremation niches, mausoleum crypts and memorial services, and the Beth Olam section is one of the oldest, active Jewish cemeteries in California.

As one of Los Angeles’ most dynamic cultural event centers, Hollywood Forever welcomes families and visitors to concerts, films, and many more events each year. We would love you to come pay a visit and learn more for yourself.

We appreciate you taking the time to read our guide to the top 5 Historical Cemeteries. We hope you found it helpful. It’s our hope that this guide has helped spark your interest in cemeteries across the world and perhaps even prompted you to book a little trip.

We want to help you make the best decisions for you and your family to celebrate the memory of a life lived. If you have any questions about any of our services please contact us.


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