Thursday, June 10, 2010


Cemeteries reflect cultural and religious views of a location. A very helpful article I read back in 1992 said that the Islam view of a cemetery is that it is functional for the living, not for the dead. The burial of earthly remains of a person is a temporary site and is considered important only as long as there are people who remember the deceased. When that time passes and there is no longer any present concern for the site and the tombstone, and as the mortal remains are no longer “evanescent,” the gravesite/tombstone is no longer necessary. In some cases certain groups require that the tombstone itself be simple and of a perishable material. This is a much more pragmatic approach to life and death than westerners hold. In Turkey, which of course is a multicultural, secular state, one can find cemeteries and tombstones along the whole spectrum of both religion and history.

I don't believe there could ever be a more beautiful artifact connected with death and burial than this lovely Roman sarcophagus, which of course we found in a museum.

An Armenian burial ground in Istanbul has beautiful tombstones. I was in this cemetery during winter, on a cold, bleak day. Finding the tombstones embedded with pictures of the priests in their black robes was touching and, as I had not seen such religious garb before, somewhat eerie. The statuary in the cemetery was breathtaking.

The Protestant cemetery in Ferikoy, the one that I did the research in, was a much more familiar setting to me, with tombs and memorials much more similar to what we find in the west. The land for this cemetery was given by the Ottoman government in 1857 to the leading Protestant powers of that time: Great Britain, Prussia, the USA, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and the Hanseatic Cities.

I know that not everyone feels about cemeteries as I do. For me they are places of beauty and peace, even when they are run-down and unkempt. I trust that you all will find something of interest in these various burial sites in part of the world that you may not have the chance to visit.

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