It’s time to travel through Croatia in an attempt to find the most interesting cemeteries. I chose the ones that I had visited. The ones that surprised me and left a deep impression on me. I, too, would love to hear your thoughts. Have you seen any of these? How do you feel about visiting graveyards and cemeteries? What cemetery would you recommend and why?
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Sounds weird and even a bit morbid, recommending to visit cemeteries. Get used to it. After all, we’re in Croatia, where a bit of black humor is usually quite welcome. Take this awful joke for an example: an old lady is wandering around the cemetery and asks a man for directions:
– Excuse me, do you know where grave no 115 is?
– Why did you get out in the first place if you don’t know your way back? – he replies.
I don’t know about you, but Croatians usually find this joke very funny so there you have it. We understand it’s wrong, but can’t help it.
A few laughs at death is what we offer. On the other hand, we take our final resting places very seriously. So seriously, that it’s not uncustomary to spot a grave with someone’s name and even a picture, and the year they were born… But they’re not dead yet! They have prepared a grave for themselves for future use. This is also kind of noble of them because the costs of funerals and grave spots are tremendous. It’s very nice of them they didn’t leave the family to deal with it completely. But to many others, especially people from westerner countries, this seems odd beyond reason.
Sisvete – All Saints’ Day
Cemeteries are a perfect fit for the last days of October because we’re approaching All Saints’ Day. I mentioned it numerous times – and this is rather disappointing for people who move to Croatia from the States: Halloween is far from big here in Croatia. Sometimes, it’s literally hated by more conservative members of Croatian society. But All Saints’ Day – the day just after Halloween, 1 November- is a huge national holiday. People will visit the graves of their family members, even if it means going on a trip outside of the places where they live. This will also be a chance to unite with your family over a nice family lunch.
Cemeteries all over Croatia are stunning around this time of the year. Because everyone will be there at All Saints’, you want your family grave not to look sad and abandoned before you arrive on that day. So, you come even earlier that week to clean it up, leave some flowers and a candle. Here in Zagreb, the traffic towards the cemeteries has special regulations more than a week before All Saints’, which we call Sisvete.
On that day, almost all of the graves are decorated with flowers and candles. The smell of them, the flickering lights, it all feels like a connection with the otherworldly. We all plan to go to the cemeteries around that time and feel guilty if we don’t manage. People usually dress up, meet a bunch of people they haven’t seen for a while on the cemetery trails, get lost a few times – at least here in Zagreb. You always get disoriented at our main cemetery Mirogoj, it’s so huge.
If the evening catches you at the cemetery, even better. Since many cemeteries are on the hills, you will be completely mesmerized by the candle lights and their scent in the darkness. If you happen to be in Croatia around All Saints’ Day, don’t miss an opportunity to visit a cemetery. I personally love to explore cemeteries when I travel, I really enjoy the feeling. In a way, you are so close to the people without being an invasive tourist. Not just physically close to the ones who are gone, but also the ones who are connected to them.
Members of European Cemeteries Route
If you think it’s just me that’s weird enough to go around the world and search for cemeteries… In my defense, a lot of other people got a similar idea. Do you know there is a European Cemeteries Route?
Several cemeteries in Croatia are a part of the route. The first one that will come to mind to most of the people of Croatia is the Varaždin cemetery. It’s a symbol of a cemetery that is a must, and it’s hard to imagine a trip to the city of Varaždin without a visit to a cemetery. It’s one of the rare cities where its inhabitants claim the cemetery as a tourist attraction, so I’d say that it’s the most authentic one.
Then there’s Kozala cemetery in Rijeka, Dubovac in Karlovac, Mirogoj in Zagreb, cemetery in Zadar, Boninovo in Dubrovnik. You can find out a lot about that one if you join one of the Haunted Dubrovnik tours. I already recommended the tours by Marija Milovac in one of the shoutout episodes. If somebody knows her way through the cemeteries of Dubrovnik, that’s Marija.
For example, on her Haunted Dubrovnik website, you can find a ghost story about a lesser-known cemetery called Dubrovnik’s Military Graveyard: The Ghost of the French Chevalier.
Back to larger cemeteries that are members of ASCE – Association of Significant Cemeteries in Europe, and are part of the European Route of Cemeteries. Do you know there is even a Week of Discovering European Cemeteries? If you find yourself in Europe at the end of May, check out if a nearby cemetery organizes some kind of a tour.
All of the abovementioned graveyards are beautiful as a whole, yet full of unique monuments and mausoleums. Many Croatian famous personalities are buried there. That’s as close as you can physically get to them. Beautiful art pieces by some of the most impressive Croatian artists decorate the tombstones. It’s a cliche to call them galleries in the open, but that’s the best description – it’s the truth.
Indeed, there are many occasional tours of cemeteries, usually aimed at the locals, but not necessarily. I, too, organize a historical cemetery tour called Mirogoj – Whispers of Eternity and pay a visit to a smaller ruinous cemetery in the heart of Zagreb during my Zagreb Ghosts and Dragons. It’s a crazy feeling when you realize you’ve gathered people from different continents at an old forgotten cemetery.
Notice how my mind is always leaning towards the creepy forgotten graveyards that immediately strike your imagination, especially after dark?
But I’m sure some of you are still eager to hear more about the famous cemeteries. Here’s a quick tip: it will be easy to explore them and get the basic info as they are all included in a mobile app called ARtour. Mirogoj, the Zagreb cemetery, actually has its own detailed app, but I heard (it’s just a rumor) that they are not planning to update it, so it might not be functional in the future.
I would like to mention a few other unique cemeteries that you could easily miss.
Graveyard with a View in Primošten
One of the most instagrammable cemeteries could be the one of Primošten. I’m telling you, it’s the cemetery with the best view. It’s so grotesque when you visit in the tourist season: people posing on someone’s grave just to get a perfect photo with the sea and the islands as a backdrop. I always think: God, this is so wrong. These guys were supposed to have the best spots, and now theirs are the most crowded ones. How tables turn, even in death.
Even with the invasion of view snatchers, there is a deep feeling of understanding of the people who have lived here when you step into the cemetery walls. A magnificent view of the blue horizon appears in front of your eyes. Wow, the best view in town is taken by the cemetery up on the hill, so close to the skies! There is a not-so-subtle message there, I’d say.
Mysterious Medieval Cemeteries
You might remember that there is a little medieval cemetery in Rogoznica, which is very close to Primošten. Check out the episode called Wonders of Rogoznica to hear all about it.
No matter how much I love Rogoznica, my favorite medieval location that I’ve visited so far is The Circular Cemetery of Ledenice.
It’s a cemetery surrounded by a perfectly round stone wall. It is situated up in the hills above the town called Novi Vinodolski. It’s placed outside of the walls of the ruinous Ledenice town. Picture this: a medieval ruin at quite an impressive spot, with a tiny cemetery nearby. It’s an absolutely incredible and mysterious sight. It’s much easier to imagine the town on the spot of ruin, to imagine people living within its walls when you see the dead just outside of it. In the center, you could spot the ruins of medieval St George’s church, which used to be the biggest one in its surrounding.
Whenever I see St George, especially in such powerful spots, I immediately think ancient lore, dragon legends, something lurking from beneath… Bear this in mind if you ever go there and treat the place poorly. I have a feeling that none of us would do anything to hurt the location. Unfortunately, because it is that isolated, visitors often tend to ruin it even more. They sometimes leave trash or even take the old stones apart. Who on earth would think that could be a good souvenir? Have they seen any good horror movies? I’d like to skip that particular curse.
Even though the graveyard was still used by the end of the 1800s, proper archaeological research hasn’t been conducted. There are indications of much older a church, or even some pagan location.
Going this far into history, I don’t even like to think about how many skeletons are still right under our feet. It seems like every square centimeter of Croatia is full of archeological findings, and many of them will never be uncovered. Isn’t it cute to imagine school children in Žminj helping out archaeologists dig out 200+ skeletons from an early 1000-year-old Croatian graveyard just next to their school?
Creepy Kringa Cemetery
That thought brings us to Istria, where Žminj lies. Oh, Istria. Terra Magica. There is a story, mentioned in some historical records, about Jure Grando. A vampire from Kringa, Istria. According to the story, Jure Grando, who wasn’t the most pleasant man when he was alive, started coming back after he died. He started visiting his wife, sucking her blood at night. Then, he continued with the rest of the village. One house, then another, and another, for years! He terrorized the town for years in the dark hours.
Eventually, they decided to open up his coffin to check what was going on! He looked as if he had just died! There was a big battle with the demonic Jure Grando at the cemetery. After trying everything that usually works on vampires, including stakes through the heart, they chopped his head off! That was the end of him. Some people go as far as to call this case a historical case of a vampire. If there is such a place, it’s Kringa in Croatia. You can believe this rather specific tale about a 17th-century vampire or not… Either way, the cemetery where the battle took place is still there.
Astronaut Cemetery at the Island of Krapanj
One of my favorite discoveries is a little cemetery at the island of Krapanj that I nicknamed astronaut cemetery. You know how they always tell you to visit a cemetery to really get to know a place. This couldn’t be more true when it comes to Krapanj. And it could create some strange analogies in your mind as it happened to me.
The cemetery is full of monuments with images that look like astronauts. It’s absolutely surreal! I don’t even want to tell you why is that, just in case you ever want to visit. If you wish, just ignore, turn off this last part and discover the mystery for yourself.
A one-day trip to Krapanj is a great idea if you’re in the area around Šibenik. There is a convenient ferry from the town of Brodarica that will take you to the nearby island. It’s just a short ride. The island is so tiny that you can walk around it. The island is famous for the tradition of sponge harvesting. It appeared in the 1600s, and by the late 1800s, the inhabitants perfected diving techniques, too. Their divers were so skilled and well-known. If there was a ship-wreck nearby, or some ports needed to get repairs under the surface… Who you gonna call? Krapanj-divers!
So, yes, it’s not the astronauts’ cemetery, but divers’ cemetery. Basically astronauts. Because it was difficult to find other divers anywhere else that could dive up to 5 times a day. It was equally hard to find ones who would dive 40 m (that’s 130 ft) under and then actually work down there for hours. They had to search for the sponges in places that were inaccessible to the boats.
Since they felt restrained by the air compressor, they often got rid of that, too. Do you like to take a rest after a long day at work? If the answer is yes, then wouldn’t you love to trade with the divers from Krapanj, who often spent some time after work in a decompression chamber? Does the history of this place sound like a space-training center, or what? The astronauts-slash-divers on the graves, as you realize what it means, strike a feeling of respect and awe. All of the sudden, you know, for a split of a second, just what it took for that man to be identified as a diver even in death.
Creepy Zagreb Cemeteries
I’m sorry, but this is a Halloween special episode. I don’t want to end with curious and marvelous, such as the cemetery of Krapanj. I want to end it with mysterious and spooky. I guess we’re heading back to my hometown of Zagreb, a proud owner of two creepy forgotten cemeteries. One of them is the hospital cemetery. The mental hospital. Need I say more? Supposedly, they are only waiting for a certain amount of years to pass since the last burial so they can build an apartment block! Is that really the best idea?
And, of course, one of my favorite spots in the town. Jurjevsko groblje. St George’s cemetery. Built on one of the oldest locations in Zagreb. It used to be outside of the walls of the old town. It was exhumed in the late 1800s. However, there are still some gravestones left behind, full of intriguing symbols, such as all-seeing eye, skull and crossed bones, hourglass-angel of death, upside-down torches.
That was my choice of curious cemeteries. Again, let me know what else should I visit and explore?
There’s another shorter episode coming up precisely on Halloween with some ideas for things to do on that day.