“ Historic cemetery located in west Warsaw, Poland. „
From the age of five until eight I spent a lot of time in rainy old Lancashire with my grandparents and I remember spending a lot of time visiting graves with my Gran. My Gran was the eldest child in a large family but for some reason her siblings were not as healthy and as I was growing up her brothers and sisters seemed to pass away one by one. I remember many a morning brushing leaves off the tombstone and going to the tap to fill vases up so my Gran could replace the old flowers with new blooms. The cemetery where the family plot is situated is a cold, windy place and I remember thinking as a kid - I hope they don't bury me here - I want to be somewhere warm. And from then on I have always been fascinated with cemeteries.
I have never found cemeteries at all depressing and every Sunday morning if my granddaughter has stayed the night I bundle her up in her pram and we take a walk to my favourite cemetery in Warsaw, Powazki, and usually circumnavigate the area. It seems I am carrying on the family tradition except the Polish half of the family aren't buried here and never will be as there is a huge waiting list. Usually she falls asleep but generally she likes to look at all the flowers and people milling about with buckets, brushes and vases.
Powazki quarter is where you can find the largest number of cemeteries together in one place in the city of Warsaw. Warsaw is very proud of its cemeteries mainly because they survived the war when the city was destroyed.
Powazki is just across the road from my apartment block. If I look through my study window I can see the austere walls of this very large cemetery. Well, the walls aren't as severe as when I fist moved here - the old, grey, scribbled on walls which were crumbling away have been replaced with red bricks. The walls are very high and apart from a mass of trees, the odd Gothic tombstone and concrete cross rising above the walls the only thing that decorates these strong, protective walls are trailing ivy and other various kinds of greenery.
I am really very fond of this quarter with its wooded areas and I used to think that most of its chambers were Gothic but having spent three years studying the cemetery I have come across some fantastic Art Nouveau designs and just recently some trendy modern gravestones that are simple but very artistic.
This leafy area provides a place of eternal rest for generations of politicians, scholars, writers and artists and the cemetery is sectioned off into avenues. One section I like is the one where soldiers from different countries are buried. At the beginning of each avenue there is a huge flag made from metal screwed to a tree. It's a good test for me to see if I can recognise the flags and name the countries. I always did love geography. Some of the graves here are very old and some over the years look like they haven't been attended to which I always think is sad.
This is one of the most important cemeteries because of all the big wigs who are buried here and in April this year, the week after the plane crash at Smolensk, the bodies of dead politicians were returned to Poland, mostly to this cemetery which was swarming with police and army officials.
Not all graves are grandiose - some have simple wooden crosses, others just have a white card with a black cross in one corner and the name of the deceased written in fancy Polish handwriting. The graves that are never tended blend in with the overgrowth of trailing, wild plants. This particularly saddens me when we visit the cemetery on the eve of All Saint's Day which has just passed. Thousands and thousands of candles are lit and the whole graveyard is a glowing sea of red and white lights. We always purchase several candles at one of the entrances to the cemetery so we can place a candle on a grave that has been forgotten. Silly really, as we don't know these people but I always want to make this gesture - candles cost hardly anything and if I'm honest I suppose I hope one day that somebody will return the favour if ever I'm forgotten. I guess the reason that graves have not been looked after is probably not from neglect but because there are no living family members to visit any more.
It really is a spectacular day and evening, All Saints Day, and Powazki is always swarming with relatives, friends, visitors - people from far and wide coming to pay homage to their loved ones. You can always spot graves of famous doctors, writers, actors, artists and of course politicians because of the mile long queues. I am guilty of joining these queues too as I love looking at dates and professions of these famous people. Even ordinary peoples graves fascinate me and you can hear me muttering away - saying things like - 'Look at this one - he lived 'till 85 and he was a famous Polish poet.' Professions like doctors, teachers, nurses, lawyers have just as much clout here in Poland as authors, actors and diplomats. Also, being a historical cemetery honourable guards stand nearby the graves of meritorious countrymen and soldiers. Donations are collected for the restoration of graves and tombs, some of which are impressive works of art.
It is also on this evening when the glow of candlelight reminds the Polish people of those brave people and courageous moments in history which may have passed but not forgotten and believe me there have been many such moments.
To me, Powazki is a very special place not only on All Saint's Day but every day. I am able to take a short cut through one of the side entrances as I go to visit my son and I love walking through the cemetery with its undulating ground which is full of ancient tree roots. Now, the cemetery is very beautiful with the ground carpeted in shades of burnt orange, amber and yellow. In winter, when heavy snow falls on the graves there is an eerie silence all around Powazki. The only faint sounds are rumbles from car engines as they pass on the road behind the strong red, brick walls.
The latest addition to the cemetery complex is the military cemetery. It is here where the Cross of Katyn stands over the symbolic grave of the 4000 officers of the Polish Army. The cross is tall, strong and simple. Nothing fancy - what makes it spectacular is the flickering waves of candlelight from the thousands of candles sat on the ground beneath the cross.
I know cemeteries aren't for everyone but this one is particularly beautiful and very interesting. If you are interested in history and tombstone design throughout the ages then you will enjoy a stroll around this quarter.
You can find the Powazki quarter on the western edge of what was the Jewish Ghetto, in the district of Wola. Access to the Roman Catholic section is from Powazkowska Street. The Jewish area is behind the huge south walls and to the east.