A waltz with death in the land of the dead! Here are five reasons why the Cemetery and Tombs of Alexander Nevsky Monastery are a must-see in St Petersburg
Speaking of historical perceptions of death in different cultures around the world, cemeteries usually have a lot to offer. The Cemetery and Tombs of Alexander Nevsky Monastery are one prime picking ground. Established in 1823, they comprise the most visited and well-known cemetery complex in St Petersburg. The area consists of four historic cemeteries—Lazarevskoe, Tikhvinskoe, Nikolskoe, and Kazache—all of them located at the Alexander Nevsky Monastery as part of the State Museum of Urban Sculpture. Although breaking into Smolensky Cemetery—with its abandoned-like atmosphere and forest-type grounds— is your spookiest option, an afternoon walk in Tikhvin or Lazarus Cemetery will suffice to discover unusual gravestones and visit the resting places of Russia’s historical giants.
- Anthology of cemetery symbolism
When you pass the gateway into the monastery complex, on your left will be the burial-vault of St Lazarus, called the necropolis of the 18th century. For centuries, people have marked gravestones with captivating patterns and symbols indicating their expectations from life, death, and the afterlife. Many of these symbols from different historical eras can be found on the gravestones at the Lazarus Cemetery, including winged skulls signifying the fleetingness of life, flying hourglasses representing the sweetness of the passing of life (‘time flies’), and the Victorian draped urn symbol, a protective shroud for the soul. Take this guide of cemetery symbolism along with you on your adventurous walk around the cemetery and see if you can find the symbols presented in the guide.
- The eternal minds of spotless gravestones
The cemetery is full of eccentric figures of the dead and strange tombstones. What could be more interesting than statues of scientists reposing on their own graves until the end of time?
- Phantoms of the opera, angels of music
After entering the monastery through the gateway, on your right will be the Tikhvin Cemetery, known as the Necropolis of the Masters of Art. This cemetery contains the graves of famous composers like Pyotr Tchaikovsky, the creator of Swan Lake, as well as members of the new romantic Russian school, or The Mighty Handful: Modest Mussorgsky, Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov, and Alexander Borodin.
Wander through the beautiful yard, take a zigzag path around the huge tombstones, listen to their music, and let your thoughts go wild!
- La Vie en rose for Dostoevsky
Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky is likely the most popular resident of Tikhvin Cemetery. The grave of the greatest psychologist in world literature is always covered with flowers from fans who visit the Russian writer’s eternal resting place from around the world. If you are lucky, you might run into literary experts or get the chance to have an unusual chat with Dostoevsky’s great-grandson.
- Lord Voldemort shall rise again!
At the end of the tour, you might think you are in Little Hangleton graveyard and the Dark Lord is about to rise from his grave. Or are you brave enough to call him Tom Riddle?
At the entrance of Lazarus Cemetery, there is a tombstone which might attract your attention. The epitaph reads:
A wanderer, you are walking, but
you’re going to lie down just like I did!
Sit down and have some rest
on the stone of mine
Pick a bylina and
remember about fate
I am at home! You are a guest
Think about yourself!
Cemetery and Tombs of Alexander Nevsky Monastery
Where: 179 Nevsky Prospekt, Ploschad Aleksandra Nevskogo, St Petersburg, 191167
When: Monday 10.45am to 6pm, Tuesday to Sunday 10am to 6pm
Price: 140 roubles (50 roubles for students)