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61. April-June 19
Quarterly Newsletter of the Landscape Observatory of Catalonia

Final Resting Places: A needed visibility

Marta García Carbonero
Architect, Professor of Landscape and Garden at the Superior Technical School of Architecture of Madrid

Final resting places are also among the least visible. Spaces for the dead slowly began to occupy locations that were increasingly on the periphery of cities from the time the reforms of the Enlightenment expelled them from urban centres. The initial fear of contracting diseases favoured their isolation in grounds with no links to the exterior other than paths flanked by cypresses that connected them to the cities. Around 1900, when new public transport networks made it possible to locate them in cheap land far away from city centres, cemeteries were able to connect more closely with their surroundings. Parallel to this, a new attitude to death, now seen as another step in the life cycle, led to the development of cremation as a secular alternative to Christian burial. By making the body disappear, cremation shifted the focus from individual tombs to the complete graveyard, giving the area surrounding it a new value.

Thus, the 20th century began with the cemeteries in Munich (1905-1907) and Stockholm (1915-1965) being located in woods with no external vistas. They were presented as impenetrable enclaves that did not show their funereal content. Much later, it was the World War I cemeteries that sought an explicit link to the territory. Given the impossibility of repatriating the fallen, the British government built a dense network of cemeteries along the western front, emphasising the link between the fatherland and the front through miradors and the openness of the grounds. This happened in the Etaples Cemetery in France (1917-1922), that faces England from a raised ground that opens to the English Channel, or that of Villers-Bretonneux, France (1920-1925), where a tower enables you to look at the old battle field. The removal of boundaries reached a climax in the Finisterre Cemetery, Spain (1998-2000). Here the idea itself of a delimited area was given up in favour of including the entire landscape of the Costa da Morte as a space for mourning in a gesture that contradicted the idea of a cemetery as an exceptional and sacred place that was rejected by the people. The interweaving of burial grounds in the area of the living calls for celebration and it is an invitation to commemorate the dead by proclaiming their presence in our shared landscapes.

The website Últims Paisatges. Patrimoni Funerari, (Last Landscapes. Funerary Heritage) presented on the 15th February 2019 by the Landscape Observatory of Catalonia together with Coementerium Association revalues this landscape dimension of the cemetery both in its role of being a part of the panorama as well as in its condition of a mirador reflecting on itself. It serves to complement the role of other initiatives, such as the Road Map of European Cemeteries, where emphasis is placed on monumental elements rather than on the surrounding area of which they are a part. This much needed proposal will contribute to making these enclaves of the memory visible and affirming their protagonism in the city and in contemporary landscape, their presence in life itself.           

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