Reykjavík, Hólavallagarður cemetery: Here lies the past

Inside our Reykjavík apartment I found a visitor’s guide with some suggested walking routes. One of them took me up a low hill west of downtown, to an old cemetery, Hólavallagarður, dating to 1838.

One of the small iron entrance gates to the cemetery

{as always, click on photos to enlarge, or mouse over for description}

Flowers, both real and fake, inside the cemetery

The only paved path I saw in the cemetery, with trees arching over

I seem to be seeing a fair number of cemeteries on our travels, which is maybe a little weird, but old cemeteries are really interesting places. They have a lot of beauty and atmosphere, and they show us something about the way people want to be remembered (as we saw in “In Memory” at Jupiter Artland).

Little lantern next to a gravestoneFamily plot I think, with orange-red flowersTiny white angels in the fallen pine needlesAt the Necropolis in Glasgow, the graves were mainly those of prosperous Victorians, laid out in fairly neat long rows with thick grass in between. The tombstones were large and often ornamented, and there were many imposing tombs and monuments. But here in Hólavallagarður, there were almost no tombs, just an astonishing diversity of headstones and wooden crosses in rectangular bordered plots.

Lovely gravestone with carvings and a profile

Pillar with names inscribed in a beautiful type

Family plot with profiles

Obelisk with carved flowers around it

Headstone with wheat and fish carvings

These plots are laid out in a grid — more or less — but the place feels like a tiny antiquarian bookseller’s, where yes, there are shelves, but the overall effect is more of a jumble. (There’s a map about halfway down this page.)

Walkway between plots

It’s also the profusion of plant life that makes the cemetery feel like a world — and time — apart from the city below. I read that there are more than a hundred species of trees and plants inside Hólavallagarður, including some that have not been found elsewhere (!!). Many of the stones bore a covering of moss or lichens, and I saw mushrooms on several of the plots. I opted not to walk down some of the paths because I saw spiders dangling from low-hanging branches!

Moss-covered gravestone

Pine branches overhanging a plot

Mushrooms growing in a plot next to a headstone and a little lantern

I tend not to really read the headstones in cemeteries, because there are so many; I skim some here and there, but mostly I don’t feel they tell enough of a story to hold my attention. And yet cemeteries, as a whole, feel so full of stories, as if I were breathing history when I walk through them. History, and the lore of the place, and the company of generations past.

Marker with the center shattered

Bench along the edge of the cemetery