Thursday, March 15, 2012

Skogskyrkogården / Woodland Cemetery, Stockholm, Sweden

To look upon the Woodland cemetery, one would never question why I’ve spent the better part of ten years photographing cemeteries. This is  one of those places where  unquestionable beauty dispels any hint of the darkness that so many people associate with cemeteries. It is truly a place of serenity, the kind of place you expect to find in a picture at the end of a fairy tale. The kind of place that must only exist in human imagination. I’m talking about Skogskyrkogården.  

This is probably the most stunning and surreal view in the cemetery, a gentle hills leading up to a group of trees, surrounded by an open sky.

But I almost missed this mother-of-all cemeteries. Really. I spent not a moment of time researching Stockholm before I left. I kind of just expected to find a local cemetery the way I find all cemeteries, by wondering around until one pops up in front of me. Thanks to fate and the kindness of strangers, I learned of the UNESCO Word Heritage site and devoted an entire day to it, which was hardly enough time.

John, the architect from San Francisco who I met randomly on a cruise to Helsinki, told us about Skogskyrkogården. John explained to us that the cemetery was constructed in the early twentieth century, and that its innovative design has been extremely influential to cemeteries all over the world. Most Western cemeteries are located on flat, open plots of land with few trees and minimal landscaping (this is in contrast to Eastern cemeteries, which are often located on steep hillsides). The tombs are planted in between narrow tree trunks, the hills rolls endlessly like waves on the surface of the ocean. There was no attempt to alter the natural beauty of the land to suit man’s needs. Instead, man came to a place of harmony with nature. 

I expect people come here am much for the beautiful landscape as they do for the cemetery. Rather, the cemetery and the landscape are inseparable, just as our lives are inseparable from nature.

To walk lengthwise from one end of the cemetery to the other takes around thirty minutes. Though the is kind of hard to determine because its almost impossible to walk straight through without stopping. Whether you get distracted by an unusual tombstone, or tree, or chapel, there is always something to look at on the way. 

This is a map of the Woodland Cemetery. It was quite huge. To walk lengthwise from the entrance to the opposite side took around thirty to forty minutes.

This is a photograph from the chapel near the main entrance.


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