Cemeteries, the eternal resting place of the dead, can be a tranquil place of remembrance and self-reflection for those still alive. Many cemeteries here in Prague have been forgotten by time and lay hidden from the incurious eye. A number of them were abandoned or established during the reforms of Joseph II in 1787, which relocated burials to the outskirts of the city primarily for sanitary reasons. Here are a handful of intriguing cemeteries worth knowing about:
German Evangelical Cemetery – Prague, Strašnice
This particular cemetery was established around 1795 and was intended for burial of German evangelical Christians. As history had it, it was shut down in 1945 following the end of the Second World War and was designated for demolition in February 1956. This was postponed until 1958 when yet another demolition was ordered. The cleared plot of land was meant to be used for recreational and sport purposes. Despite these developments, further burials occurred from 1948 until 1993 and the planned demolition never took place.
In 2000, a proposal to demolish most of the cemetery and bury the remains of fallen Wehrmacht soldiers from WWII was brought forward, but did not materialize. Currently, the cemetery has 598 graves and 54 tombs and is undergoing reconstruction to preserve it for the future generations to come.
Old Jewish Cemetery in Žižkov – Prague, Žižkov
This particular cemetery was established in 1680 to bury victims of that time’s plague epidemic. A second large wave of burials took place in the latter half of the 18th century, with it serving as a cemetery until 1890 when a new graveyard was set-up in Prague’s Strašnice district. An estimated 40,000 people were buried here, among them chief Rabbi Ezekiel Landau. It also served as a burial ground for some of the first Jewish businessmen, including Joachim Popper. Although the cemetery was relatively large, it fell into disrepair following WWII and the decision was made to maintain only the oldest part and form a park from the rest in the 1960s. In 1985, construction of the Žižkov Tower began on the spot in which the cemetery once stood. The cemetery, or what remains of it, is a protected monument and is now managed by the Prague Jewish Museum.
Old Jewish Cemetery in Smíchov – Prague, Smíchov
Due to a lack of space in the Josefov Jewish Cemetery, a new one was established in 1788. Often referred to as the Old Radlice Cemetery due to its location in Radlice, the current cemetery has approximately 600 graves. The last known official burial was in 1937. Most of the gravestones have verses in German primarily due to the fact many of the people buried there were Jews assimilated at the end of the 19th century. Many gravestones still display remnants of photos of those buried there. Much of the area is covered by ivy giving it an eerie atmosphere. However, the site is closed to the public and much like the other cemeteries discussed in this article, is a protected monument.
Malá Strana Cemetery – Prague, Smíchov
Unknown to many who frequent Smíchov, there is a large cemetery between Košíře and Smíchov. It was established in 1680 as a reaction to the plague epidemic. It got its name for belonging to the St. Wenceslas church which once stood at Malá strana but was demolished in the 18th century. In its vicinity, the Church of the Holy Trinity was erected in 1831-1837. Joseph II’s reforms meant that it became the primary cemetery for the entire left-bank of the Vltava. Due to its being eventually surrounded by buildings, the cemetery was closed in 1884 and the Malvazinky cemetery took on its role. Among some of the most famous people buried there are Christoph and Kilian Ignaz Dienzenhofer who are synonymous with Prague’s Baroque buildings, Antonín Mánes and František Ringhoffer, the founder of the legendary industrial family. Due to vandalism in the past, the cemetery is closed to the public.
Olšany Cemetery – Prague, Olšany
Although it is the largest cemetery in Prague, Olšany does conceal some hidden treasures. Established in 1679, it stretches over 50 hectares of land and is said to be the final resting place of more than 2 million people including famous individuals like Jan Palach, poet Karel Jaromír Erben and others. Most people are familiar with the side of the cemetery near the Flora shopping center and metro stop. However, the Olšany cemetery, when you approach Želivského is divided by a tram line leading towards Palmovka. The remote section of the Olšany cemetery towards Strašnice is often overlooked but is equally impressive.
It is here where we can find a Greek and Russian Orthodox cemetery, a commemorative burial ground for Red Army soldiers as well as Commonwealth soldiers from World War II. It also houses the New Jewish Cemetery established in 1890, which now represents the primary and largest Jewish cemetery in the Czech Republic stretching over an area of 101 430 m2. Perhaps the most famous person buried there includes Franz Kafka.
Although these cemeteries are known to some, they are largely forgotten and hidden from the eyes of the general public, often unaware of their historical significance and role. If you ever find yourself in the proximity of these sites, remember that there much like the buildings around us, cemeteries have their stories to tell.
Have you explored any of these secret cemeteries?