Ever since my grandmother, with her usual sense for drama, declared that she wanted me to drive her and my grandfather –both old but in excellent health- to the graveyard of their birth town for All Saints’ Day ‘because this could be the last time’, I cannot pass any 1st of November without visiting one. This is Cementerio De La Almudena in Madrid.
Sure enough, my grandparents did not live to see the next All Saints’ Day. If they would have been buried in Madrid, they would have had traffic jams today.
Cementerio de La Almudena
Avenida Daroca 90
Opening hours: daily from 08:00 to 19:00 (winter) – 19:30 (summer)
Metro La Elipa or bus 15 from Sol will leave you very close to the main entrance.
Telling your colleagues and friends that you used part of your weekend to visit a cemetery will raise a few eyebrows: has somebody died? Telling them that is was a fun visit only does not help a lot. For die-hard Madrid lovers who have seen it nearly all: Cementerio de La Almudena deserves a spot on your ‘been there, done that’ list. The slightly eerie atmosphere is in sharp contrast with Madrid’s everyday life.
Cementerio de La Almudena was built around 130 years ago, when it was decided that is was better to bury the dead outside the city instead of around the churches. The original graveyard was designed with a capacity of 7.000 funerals a year in mind, around half of all funerals at that time. The modernist entrance, chapel and other buildings constructed at the time may remind you of Gaudí and seem to be meant to accommodate for every Madrileño, rich or poor, from every religion.
Estimations state that around 5 million people have been buried there, but that is a bit hard to believe. True: the cemetery is huge –although you will only discover that walking around, because it is a bit hilly and you will not get an immediate oversight- and most graves are family graves, but 5 million? That would be more than the city’s current and living population!
It is said that the Comunidad has plans to promote the cemetery in a touristy way, indicating directions to famous graves. Luckily, that has not been done yet and the graveyard is best experienced just walking around. Once passed the beautiful entrance, you will quickly find yourself to be the only visitor. Despite many inscriptions on head stones that ‘your wife and children will never forget you’, many family members have done just that because La Almudena, despite the vast number of people buried and bus line 110 running a service through the cemetery, is shockingly quiet. How unlike Madrid. And how unsettling.
Some parts are just very old and on the verge of collapse. 80-Year old graves from presumably very poor people are so dilapidated that you almost start looking for bones. Their wrought-iron monuments are completely rusted and illegible. And then there are the newer graves from rich people, adorned with larger-than-life statues: the circus director apparently very fond of himself, the bull fighter with a copy of himself in bronze. Normal graves are decorated with plastic flowers. How useful if you do not plan on visiting for a long time.