Exploring Warsaw’s Powązki Cemetery

Everything was closed on Easter Monday in Warsaw, so we set out to explore the city’s two biggest graveyards: Old Powązki Cemetery and the Okapowa Street Jewish Cemetery. It turned out that the first cemetery was so absolutely huge that we didn’t even get to the Jewish one! Gives us a project for another day.

Powązki Cemetery was established in 1790 and contains the graves of many notable Poles, including members of the royal family. No one knows exactly how many people are buried there, in part because the cemetery’s records were destroyed in World War Two. But estimates run as high as a million burials. The cemetery is well-cared for as befits a national historical monument, and is both interesting and atmospheric as all get-out.

The cemetery gate.
The cemetery gate.
Flowers for sale just outside the cemetery.
Flowers for sale just outside the gates.

Though not as big a deal as All Soul’s Day, Easter is apparently another occasion when many Poles visit cemeteries to clean up and decorate the graves of their loved ones. To that end, there were dozens of sidewalk flower vendors outside the gates.

A family decorating a grave.
A family decorating a grave.
All shined up and bedecked with flowers and candles.
All shined up and bedecked with flowers and candles.

While most of the sculptures in the cemetery can’t compare with the marvels of Vienna’s Zentralfriedhof, especially after extensive damage in the war, there are some pretty cool monuments to be seen.

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi.
Sic Transit Gloria Mundi.
The Church of St. Karol Boromeusz looms over the cemetery.
The Church of St. Karol Boromeusz looms over the cemetery.
powazki (7 of 17)
More or less typical turn of the century monument.
The grave of two artists.
The grave of two artists.
There are many family vaults in the cemetery.
There are many family vaults in the cemetery. Unlike in Vienna, some of these vaults had actively maintained small shrines inside them with fresh flowers and candles.
powazki (13 of 17)
The graves are in tight rows with multiple burials in most tombs.

Some of the monuments are really creative!

A WWII pilot's tomb is decorated with a propeller!
A WWII pilot’s tomb is decorated with a propeller.
These tiny old ladies helped each other walk to decorate a family grave.
These tiny old ladies helped each other walk to decorate a family grave.
Many graves have ceramic photos of the people interred in them.
Many graves display ceramic photos of the people interred in them.
Possibly the most cheerful grave I've ever seen. Lovely statue with a smile on her face.
Possibly the most cheerful grave I’ve ever seen. Lovely statue of a relaxed woman with a smile on her face.
One of the engineers of Warsaw's tram system has a cross made of girders.
One of the engineers of Warsaw’s tram system has a cross made of girders on his grave.
This interesting grave contains a Bosnian Muslim and his Christian son.
This interesting tomb contains a Bosnian Muslim and his Christian son.
It just goes on and on!
It just goes on and on!

We had a fun ramble around the place, but didn’t even come close to exploring the entire thing. I plan to go back one day, maybe in the late afternoon, to explore further and to take better photos!

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