Even though many consider walking through a cemetery to be gloomy, resting places can also inspire us and tell remarkable stories of the past. Every year, we honor the departed on All Saints' Day in Transylvania and all over Romania. This event helps us reconnect with our ancestors, reminding us of the paths that they took in life. Holidays like these make us see that each tombstone tells a story. Some stories are simple, while others are tangled, impacting people’s existence. One place where the departed seem to come back to life is the Bellu Cemetery in Bucharest. There are so many statues and crypts in this famous cemetery in Romania’s capital that it is easy to feel like the deceased are still amongst us. What makes Bellu Cemetery (also known as Şerban Vodă Cemetery) famous? Stick around, and you’ll find out.
Before Bucharest was urbanized, people were buried on the grounds of churches. These practices soon turned into a problem due to the limited burial spaces surrounding these religious institutions. This meant that plots of land needed to be found elsewhere for this purpose. A baron by the name of Barbu Bellu donated a 28-hectare garden in 1852, the same property on which the cemetery resides today. The chapel of the graveyard was made by Alexandru Orăscu, while Constantin Lecca did the interior paintings. Only in 1858 was the first person buried here.
As I mentioned, Bellu Cemetery is famous in Romania, being one of the most recognized cemeteries of the country, alongside the Merry Cemetery in Săpânța. One of the reasons it is so popular is the burial ground’s special alley of writers. Many Romanian poets, novelists, and dramatists have their final resting places all stacked together on a single lane. Most of these writers have had their work translated into different languages, becoming renowned worldwide. It is worth mentioning that among these writers are Mihai Eminescu, Nichita Stănescu, Ion Luca Caragiale, Marin Preda, and George Călinescu. Mihai Eminescu’s grave always seems to stand out, due to the number of flowers and candles one can find there. All these offerings reflect the admiration of the Romanian people towards a man that became immortal thanks to his creations.
Another aspect of Bellu Cemetery that makes foreigners want to come and take a look is the number of busts and life-size statues, unique funeral stones, and elaborate mausoleums. At every corner, there is an object that catches your attention, tempting you to discover its story. Maybe one of the most searched shrines is that of the Gheorghieff bankers. Built by the architect Ion Mincu and with sculptures by Federick Storck, the tomb is a majestic example of true artistry. The bankers were brothers and didn’t have any heirs. Because of their many donations to various causes, even today, people remember the generous brothers when they pass by their mausoleum.
The Bellu Cemetery has many stories to tell. It is hard for relatives to let go of their loved ones, so many have chosen to make realistic statues depicting those they have lost. As one walks through the tombs, noticeable are the lady with the umbrella, the father mourning the loss of his daughter at her bedside, the smiling head of a Romanian actor who died during the big earthquake of 1977, and the mausoleum of Iulia Haşdeu. It is said that after Iulia Haşdeu’s death, her father tried talking to her spirit through seances. In these spiritual sessions, he believed that Iulia asked him to put three busts inside her crypt; those of Christ, Victor Hugo, and William Shakespeare. He was convinced that death is not the end and that his daughter was still with him, guiding his steps.
These stories and more can be heard by booking one of the many available walking tours at Bellu Cemetery in Bucharest. As strange as it may sound, there is so much life in this graveyard. Most of the cemetery’s resting places are embedded with a story, and to discover these stories, we must only be curious enough to ask.
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