Prague's Magical Olšany Cemetery
This amazing graveyard is one of the city's most impressive attractions.
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I’ve written previously about how my first visit to Olšany Cemetery was one of my most magical days in Prague. That first day, the magic may have partly been due to the fact that I was sharing a perfect October day with my friend Marianne. In fall, the cemetery’s many trees blaze with bright colors. Frankly, the place is almost as much an urban forest as it is a cemetery.
But I’m pretty certain that any time of the year, this cemetery is well worth a visit.
Naturally, I took hundreds of photos that first day — then more when I returned for All Souls Day on November second. Then I came back with Brent to show him the magic of the place too.
Olšany is the largest cemetery in Prague and was originally created back in 1680 when the plague struck the city and there was an urgent need for a larger burial ground for all of the dead.
A hundred years later, in 1787, plague struck again, and Emperor Joseph II declared that in order to stop the spread of disease, no more bodies could be buried inside what were then the city limits. So Olšany was expanded and became the city’s only cemetery.
The cemetery was laid out for as many as two million burials, which frankly seems astonishing. But when a city dates back to the 5th century CE, that’s a lot of people who will need to be buried.
The size of Olšany is especially apparent when viewed from the top of nearby Žižkov Television Tower.
Estimates are that there are currently 230,000 people buried in Olšany in 65,000 grave sites. (The newly deceased are often laid on top of previous burials, which accounts for the discrepancy between people and graves.)
The entire Olšany necropolis is made up of twelve cemeteries. This includes the New Jewish cemetery, the largest Jewish cemetery in the Czech Republic, as well as a Jewish Orthodox section, and even a very small Muslim section.
I hadn’t realized Franz Kafka was either Czech or Jewish until I heard he was buried in the New Jewish cemetery. Naturally, I had to pay a visit.
Most graves I saw were well tended, but others had been left to Mother Nature who had covered them with ivy and gold blankets of leaves. I found that actually made them even more moving memorials.
Our time in Prague happened to overlap with All Souls Day, which falls on November 2nd and is widely honored throughout Eastern Europe.
On this day, many families visit the graves of recently deceased loved ones, as well as long dead ancestors.
That particularly evening was quite chilly, but that didn’t deter locals from turning out to pay their respects.
Candles are lit, flowers are left, and grave sites are meticulously swept clean of leaves. An already lovely landscape becomes that much more entrancing.
Later that week, I took Brent for a visit. Flowers and candle holders still dotted the park, giving it a surprisingly festive air.
I plan on being cremated, but if I were buried, I wouldn’t mind spending eternity in Olšany.
That’s it! Coming soon, Prague’s Old Jewish cemetery, which has a fascinating history.
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