Bellu Cemetery in Bucharest: Mesmerizing Art on Display
Mar 15, 2018 | Travel guide
If you plan on visiting Bucharest and you are in the middle of creating the sightseeing agenda, don’t forget to add a visit to the wonderful and very significant Bellu Cemetery. It is one of those places where you can enjoy fine art peacefully (and for free). We suggest pairing this experience with a visit to one of the most popular museums in Bucharest and sink in as much as history as possible. You can always get a much affordable taxi service and see this place in no time.
The Cemetery, also called “Bellu’s Garden of Souls” was founded on the domain of an orchard with oranges, which was donated to the state by a rich minister called Bellu, and on the territory of the Vacaresti Monastery which had three windmills at the time. The necessity of its existence came with the European politics of urbanism and hygiene, additionally adapted by the Romanian administration, during the Turkish occupation. From May, 1850 the drafting of the new cemeteries area for the Orthodox, Catholic, Armenian, Protestant, Jewish and Turkish people starts.
Bellu Cemetery was initially conceived as an Orthodox Cemetery, however it has some interesting exceptions, such as the occult monument dedicated to the genius child of a Romanian writer Bogdan Petriceicu Hasdeu, who died at 17 years old in Paris. The first residents of the “Bellu’s Garden of Souls” were brought from other cemeteries located around the churches. Bucharest developed as a city of neighborhoods called “mahalale”, which meant having the church as a civic center, hence the cemetery was a public space. With the dislocation of the cemeteries, outside the limits of the urban area, the public activity around them was reduced.
Today, the cemetery land spreads across 220,000 square meters and is the most important gallery of people from the Romanian history. Here lies the most famous Romanian poet Mihai Eminescu, the Romanian folklore singer Maria Tanase, many important ministers, writers, actors, architects, bankers, etc. The Romantic sculptures here give the impression of a very vivid sculptural patrimony, because of their very realistic execution and head-spinning details. The architectural patrimony consists of decorated sepulchers in Neo-Gothic, Art Deco style in the chapel, made by the architect Orascu, who was also buried in this cemetery in the three mausoleums made by the architect Ion Mincu, the promoter of the Neo-Romanian style, whose name was borrowed by to the University of Architecture of Bucharest.
The visitors tend to see Bellu Cemetery to appreciate the graveyard art and intricate sculptures, many describing this place as a giant, open-air museum. The cemetery gradually became a unique outdoor gallery of impressive funeral sculptures and tombs created by famous artists of the time, with nearly 200 of them being listed as historical monuments. Representing a symbolic garden of souls where once the garden of oranges was, Bellu Cemetery is a place for meditation and quiet walks on narrow alleys guarded by the memory of those buried here.
Among the best-known sculptures are the works of Rafaello Romanelli representing the couple Poroineanu, allegedly husband and wife, who killed themselves after finding out they were brother and sister. You can also see the statue of Katalina Boschott, a Belgian governess who died after an unsuccessful surgery, buried and mourned by her rich and secret lover. Some of the most important historical monuments here include the chapels done by the architect Ion Mincu — Cantacuzino, Ghica, Gheorghieff, Lahovary, Tell, Protopopescu —, the monuments of Iulia Hasdeu, Elena Izvoranu, Zoe Slatineanu or Alexandra Falcoianu. More chapels and funeral sculptures rest hidden in the dense network of alleys and small paths. An Art Deco style chapel built in 1890 is located in the center of the cemetery. Very similar to the Cathedral of Karlsbad, the chapel’s interior paintings were done by two of the best Romanian artists of the time, Dimitrie Belizarie and Arthur Verona.
Bellu Cemetery was included on the list of the Association of Significant Cemeteries in Europe, which is one more reason to visit it if you’ve already seen famous places like Pere-Lachaise from Paris or Staglieno Cemetery from Genoa. You won’t be disappointed. Additionally, you’ll get to see Bucharest beyond the Old Town and the mainstream attractions of the capital. Many Romanians come here to pay their respects to the plethora of famous people buried here. Besides artists and poets, some members of aristocratic families are also buried at Bellu Cemetery in Bucharest. Besides the large and beautiful Orthodox chapel which serves Bellu Cemetery, there is another smaller one, found near the Academician’s area, which was built for the French Military Ceremony after the First World War. The tranquility and the beauty of the funeral monuments became a part of a unique atmosphere here, a universe where the green vegetation hosts the eternal mourning, transforming it into bird song. Today visiting Bellu is an escape on a green island, right in the middle of the crowded city.
Seeing Bucharest is a rather exciting activity. There are plenty of places to visit and an interesting cuisine to indulge in. However, for all of those looking to experience Bucharest in a more unique way, beyond the “beaten” tourist path, our warm recommendation goes to planning a visit to the Bellu Cemetery. You can do this after the mandatory walk around the Old Town Bucharest and learning about its history. So before hopping onto your airport taxi transfers and leaving this city, enjoy the fine art this place has to offer.