Mirogoj Cemetery in Zagreb
Anyone who had forgotten flowers in their haste needn’t have worried, for there were plenty of flower stands dotting the edge of the cemetery as the bus pulled up and dropped us off. The cemetery is enclosed in by a great wall with parapets every few dozen meters. The entranceway to the cemetery is truly amazing, with ivy covered walls and arched doorways. The entrance to St. Peter should be so beautiful.
I sit down after walking for a while in front of the grave of a one Marieta Pollack. It is a really big tomb, about ten feet wide and six or seven feet deep. She lived from 1875 until 1925, so this is one of the older tombs in the cemetery I imagine. There are a few other names added to her headstone. None of the names seem to have the same last name as she did. This was different from the rest of the tombstones which often had “Obitelj Markovic” or “Obitelj Balantin” inscribed upon it. From my little yellow dictionary I soon learned that “obitelj” means “family.” Her headstone has the Star of David on it, and something in Hebrew which I cannot read, but which I see on a good number of the stones in this area of the cemetery. There is an inscription that reads “Što ljubav spaja smrt ne razdvaja.”
Her headstone seems to be on the edge of the Jewish section
of Mirogoj. Towards the edge of the cemetery I began to
notice more and more German names, last names like Weiss
and first names like Adolf. And, at the same time, more
and more of the tombstones began to replace the long cross
with the Star of David. The tombs are in most other ways
identical to the rest of the ones I saw previously;
typically black marble slabs on top of a black box, which
was set into the ground, and with a matching stone
headpiece sitting perpendicular to the ground. Marieta
Pollack’s grave also had a small bench in front of it.
This wasn’t typical. Only a few of the graves had a bench. About half of the benches had a back to them, and this back always forced the person sitting in the bench to face the grave, as if to remind the person for what they were here. Some of the other benches had no backing, as if to say that they appreciated whatever closeness and company they could get. I found it interesting that the benches with the back piece on them almost always were covered in moss and in greater disrepair than the ones with a back.
This truly is one of the most beautiful places I have visited in Croatia. The small paths through the cemetery cut straight through the graves, dividing them into large groups of several hundred tombs. I could not tell if these larger groups had any particular significance. Trees line the edges of the paths, and since it is early fall when I am visiting, the leaves, some of which litter the path and some of which stil cling to the tree branches, contrast nicely with the grey sky and the gravelly stone under my feet. The land in the cemetery is uneven, and the paths roll up and down the ground between the tombs. In most cases these paths go straight, but around the edges the paths curve and bend.
Today is Sunday, and the people here are almost all
elderly, although I am not sure if this is normal. The
footsteps over the concrete paths remind you of this fact;
broken and deliberate footsteps, sometimes you can hear one
foot as it is slowly dragged behind the other. Shhhh-tk.
Shhhh-tk. Some people hover over the graves, holding flowers. Some dilligently clean the marble slabs with containers of water, brooms and by simply picking off the leaves. Some do this alone, while others have come in groups. As I pass people I try to check the date of the tombstone. One older man must have buried his wife recently; her tombstone says 2000. He stands alone in the long row of graves where he brushes the dirt from her grave.
As I continue about the cemetery, it seems like many of the graves followed the style of those around them. In one section most are black marble, with similar boxy construction. In other areas the stone is a lighter color. As I progress back to the entrace, there is more originality, some graves even add black wrought iron fences around them. I find it funny that there are several tombs on the very edge of each divided section which are so plain, in sharp contrast to the other tombs which are so careful assembled and planned. These simple tombs must get more attention from tourists like me than the more elaborate ones in the center. Then there are the older, fancier graves which in their day must have been magnificent, but in their decrepitude remind everyone that no matter what your legacy in life, death has a way of limiting your power over the future.