A Photographic Journey Through Cementerio General de Santiago
Somewhere, deep in the human psyche is a desire to be remembered after death. This can be through the medium of one’s life work, or, more visibly, through tomb markers.
While many of us are satisfied with a simple marker or gravestone, those with the money and inclination have, through the ages, required more extravagant memorials.
Throughout history, rulers and people of power have erected massive structures to ensure that their memory lives on, long after their physical remains have turned to dust.
Around the world, some more recent collections of interesting and relatively large-scale tombs can be found in the great cemeteries and graveyards.
In London, Highgate Cemetery has some spectacular tombs, as does Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. Saint Louis #1 Cemetery in New Orleans houses the well-to-do of the city and tombs of the high status Argentines can be found in La Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires.
While these cemeteries are famous and well-visited, there is another giant that is somewhat neglected by the world’s tourists.
With over two million burials, Cementerio General de Santiago in Santiago de Chile is one of the largest in South America.
Established in 1821 by Bernardo O’Higgins after Chile’s independence from Spain, Cementerio General has 237 incredible mausoleums.
The ornate and opulent houses of the dead are a testament to the early and rapid success of Chile and the money that went through the city of Santiago.
The tombs are monuments to the aristocratic families who made fortunes in mining and trade.
A variety of styles have been employed by the mausoleum architects, each reflecting the fashions of the times.
A journey through Cementerio General, past tombs of past presidents and bankers, is a haunting, overwhelming and enthralling experienced that will remain with you long after you have left.
Cementerio General’s sun-streaked corridors are lined with all manner of buildings ranging from simple, one room structures to Ottoman palaces and Greek temples.
Guardian beasts sleep at the doorways to the realms of the dead, protecting the occupants in their eternal sleep.
Angels keep watch while emoting the grief of the families who have lost those dear to them with beautiful, mourning countenances.
In places, the clean paths divert into overgrown and ramshackle places, where tombs seem almost to be swallowed by the forces of nature.
Trees fight against the hand of man to reclaim the dead and bring them back to Mother Earth.
The structures made to last for eternity, last only as long as families remain to tend to them.
The greats of Chilean history; presidents, revolutionaries, martyrs and musicians are remembered in Cementerio General.
While the high profile General Pinochet is absent from the cemetery, the victims of his brutal rule are not, and Cementerio General is a place that Chileans come to remember.
Pyramids stand side-by-side with gothic architecture, adding to the otherworldly feel of the great land of the dead.
As you leave it, you feel like you are exiting a fantasy land and back into the land of the living; a clear, yet invisible boundary is crossed.
Cementario General is one of the most spectacular monuments to the dead anywhere in the world.
A visit to it brings you face-to face with a place that we try to avoid throughout our lives, yet is inevitably where we all must travel in the end.