Place De Brouckère, Boulevard Anspach, Boulevard Adolphe Max, Avenue Brugmann – do you know who any of these guys were? Do you like history, especially the great wars? Would you like to escape the crowds of the “mainstream” parks of Brussels during the sunny days of the de-confinement period? If your answer is yes to any of these questions, then I would highly recommend you put on your walking shoes and head out to the Brussels Cemetery.
Inaugurated in 1877, the Brussels Cemetery is the largest graveyard of the city with its 41 hectares. Easily accessible by bus no 63, 66 and 80 (“Cimitiére de Bruxelles”), it is a great walking destination from Tuesday to Sunday (opening hours: 8.30-16.00). During my visit I spent there 2.5 hours, walked 6km within its walls and met 10 people the most.
It was Louis Fuchs (1818-1902) who designed this graveyard as a rather innovative concept at the time: a resting place for living and dead. Two main aspects were kept in mind: hygiene and aesthetics, thus a large variety of trees and bushes were planted along large avenues. And of course, rich fauna is attracted by such a sprawling vegetation – I even met two rabbits during my walk.
The Brussels Cemetery became the final resting place for a great number of important Belgian personalities (some of them transferred here during the foundation of the cemetery). “On broad tree-lined avenues, you find the graves of burgomasters and generals.” (Derek Blyth: The 500 Hidden Secrets of Brussels) Besides them, you will also pass by the grave of Napoleon’s little daughter, Joséphine; leader of the first Antarctic Expedition, Adrien de Gerlache de Gomery; or explorer of Congo, host in Boma to Stanley during his crossing of Africa from East to West, Alexandre Delcommune – just to give you some gripping examples.
Besides the tombs of individuals, the cemetery gives place to no less than 16 monuments and memorials. I have never seen in one place memorials for so many different nations: British soldiers who fell in the battle of Waterloo in 1815, Germans who fought with the French in 1870-71, Soviets helping the liberation of Belgium in 1944, heroes of the First and Second World War even from Canada, but also people of Brussels who died in Congo.
Not too far away from the grave of George Nélis (1886-1929), the first Belgian soldier with a military flying licence, “the Father of Belgian Air Force”, there is a seperate plot with Belgian Airmen who were killed in the Second World War: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few” (Winston Churchill)
As a great fan of art nouveau, let me also mention the memorial for the victims of the L’Innovation Department Store fire that killed 251 people in 1967 becoming the deadliest fire in Belgian history. This department store on Rue Neuve was a famous work of Victor Horta.
My personal favourite memorial became the wall that honours those executed during the First World War: on the bas-relief of the wall (by Francois Malfait and Pierre Theunis) a man emerges from the stone tearing its shirt surrounded by grieving women.
Luckily enough, in the Parks and Gardens of Brussels series, a guide to the Brussels Cemetery was published that is accessible for free online at this link: https://fr.calameo.com/read/001057645a4375259c03a
So, what are you waiting for? Download it, and embark on the expedition! No flight ticket needed.
Article by Dorka DEMETER (Instagram: magicofmoment_s)