Tuesday, June 28, 2011

DUB -> LHR, Part 1: Highgate Cemetery

I'm a bad blogger.  A bad, bad blogger.  Terrible.  We've been really busy over her trying to get some things together - a lot of which I'm not going to blog about so you'll just have to take my word that my mind and efforts have been otherwise engaged and I apologize.  Having said that, my sister and loyal reader R is probably the only one who's missed me and she can cope!! hehe.  

Anyways, (an embarrassingly long in blog-world) three weeks ago husband and I went to London to visit my younger brother and his lovely lady.  We had a fantastic time.  C stayed home with her Aunty R (this was only the second time that P & I have left her at the same time, so of course I spent all weekend being the annoyingly overbearing absent mother and I'm sure I drove R crazy!!).  But I must say it was nice to get away and have some couple time with another couple (especially one we love so much!).

SO - my brother lives in a lovely residential area of London just south of the Thames.  It really is beautiful and I immediately started making plans to move.  :)  I have always had a soft spot for London as my earliest years were spent there and my first memories all take place there too.  Being the accent cameleon that I am (not on purpose!!!), my first accent was a little London one, too.  God how ridiculous does that sound?  Anyways, the point is I love it there and would move there in a nanosecond (anyone want to hire me?).  I was excited to be there with husband because it was a city we had only visited together very briefly before - and in Heathrow airport on the way to honeymoon no. 1, which I don't think counts anyways.

As I arrived really late on Friday night, the only thing we did was have a nice glass of wine and hit the hay.  Saturday, however, would be our only full day there so we packed as much in as we could.  We wanted to do off the beaten track touristy things and JJ & K planned a brilliant day.  (Before I get started, I must apologize, in advance, for the photos - what was in the frame when I pressed the shutter was complete guesswork, as I did not have an 'old-fashioned' view finder on my digital camera and it's screen looked like this:)

Sad, isn't it?  Does anyone know if this can be fixed?  I only got the camera right before C was born and I love it.  :(

Anyways, we started our day at Highgate Cemetery in North London.  (Side note:  have you read Audrey Niffenegger's Her Fearful Symmetry?  It's set at Highgate.  I am only just reading it now but it is cool to know exactly where she's writing about!).  All I can say about this place is WOW!  I have a serious fascination and respect for cemetery's in general - every time I pass one I whisper a prayer for all the souls resting there, wondering who they were and how they impacted this world we live in now.  But old cemeteries are even more fascinating to me.  Hands up who has been to Père-Lachaise in Paris?  It's one of my favorite places in that amazing city - I've been about three times and every time I go I discover something new and fascinating.  But Highgate - it's like something out of a movie - you can hardly believe it's real. Comparatively speaking, Père-Lachaise is extremely manicured and landscaped.  Highgate, however, is overgrown, untouched by gardeners or people coming to clean and keep up their family's graves.  There's ivy and vines covering the ground and many of the headstones, some of which  are broken.  The beautiful old tree's roots have grown so much that they're pushing some headstones out of the ground and overtaking the plots.  Wildflowers thrive everywhere.  It's amazingly beautiful.  It's literally like stepping back in time.  On our tour of the West Cemetery (which I would highly recommend), our guide kept using the word 'atmospheric', and it was the best word to describe it, but magical and peaceful are also entirely appropriate.

It's not the oldest cemetery in London - it was founded in 1839, back when Highgate was more 'outside' the centre of the city, in response to the inadequate burial grounds for a London population that had dramatically increased in a short amount of time.   It's a beautiful example of a Victorian cemetery and an excellent study of the great lengths and vast sums of money the Victorians spent in designing and preparing their places of eternal rest.  Apparently, the way you were buried was an opportunity to show the world just how wealthy and/or important you were in this world, and they took every opportunity to do so with grandiose and ostentatious headstones or mausoleums.  It really was fascinating.  
Our tour guide told us that Highgate did not always look like this - it was once, like Père-Lachaise, extremely well manicured and maintained - graves would not have been overgrown, grass would have framed each plot, the trees, of course, would have been much smaller and would not have created the natural canopy that it does today.  The finest flowers would have lined the pristine paths.  It would have also been much more sparsley populated, having a more park-like appearance with open grassy areas yet to become a souls resting place.  It would have been quite a different experience - I'd love to travel back and see it in it's early years.  
This was an example of a wealthy family's plot.  It would have cost a huge amount of money for something like this.
It wasn't until the turn of the century, when elaborate funerals and posthumous displays of wealth began to wane, that the cemetery began it's slow decline to the state it is today.  With the onset of the war, gardeners and groundsmen left London to go to fight - graves began to be abandoned and maintenance of the grounds became almost nonexistent.     
I just loved this tree.  If it could talk!
The next few photos are of the very large "Egyptian Avenue" (of the 1840s), and was a style very in vogue after the discovery of the Valley of the Kings in Egypt.
Each side of that passageway is lined with family vaults.  They were very expensive at the time, of course, but apparently they took so long to complete that the Egyptian fad was waning a bit and people were reluctant to buy these very over-the-top vaults.  They were bough up eventually, though, and each person's door and surround is personalized for the family who occupies it.

When you exit the passageway through the arch in the photo above, you enter the circle of Lebanon...
Which surround and encase and ancient Cedar of Lebanon (the vaults act like a giant plant pot, if you will)....see it?  
It was quite amazing.  After we left the Circle of Lebanon, we were able to go into the catacombs - which was really fantastic!  Unfortunately, due to a severe lack of funding during the 1960s-70s, the cemetery and the catacombs sustained a lot of damage (Hammer Horror was even allowed to shoot some films here, can you imagine?).  Some of the vaults and coffins were damaged to the point where we could actually see how each coffin was lined in lead (for reasons I'm not going to elaborate on).  Apparently, because above ground burial required each coffin to be lined in lead, they weighed an absolute ton (no really, she said most of them could easily weigh a ton).  As a result, they normally buried children in the upper vaults of the catacombs as they weighed less.  :(   We were not allowed to take photos inside the catacombs so you'll just have to go visit it for yourself.

There are a lot of notable residents of Highgate Cemetery (click here for a brilliant list of the cemetery's most famous residents), but the most famous one wasn't included in our tour.  So...after our tour was finished, we hopped across the road to quickly visit part of the East Cemetery.  We didn't have much time but P wanted to visit the grave of this guy... 
Karl Marx. That photo doesn't really do the enormity of this grave justice.  It's ginormous.  So, I had my 6'7" husband go stand beside it for scale....

And that was our trip to Highgate Cemetary!  Stay tuned to find out what we got up to next....

1 comment:

  1. I missed you too! I'm glad you guys had a lovely weekend away together :)