About an hours drive from Bratislava, located in the Simmering district of Vienna, is a lovely cemetery called Zentralfriedhof – also known as Vienna’s Central Cemetery.
Established in 1863, Zentralfriedhof is one of the largest cemeteries in Europe. It was assumed at the time that due to industrialization and the strength of the Austro-Hungarian Empire that the population would outgrow the capacity of the existing communal cemeteries.
The cemetery was designed by Karl Jonas Mylius and Alfred Friedrich Bluntschli and it was opened on All Saints’ Day in 1874.
Zentralfriedhof was quite controversial due to its interdenominational character.
The Roman Catholic Church was opposed to the different faith groups being interred on the same ground but the city officials weren’t bothered. They didn’t want an official Catholic opening of the new cemetery and funded the construction of a segregated Jewish section.
Zentralfriedhof also has sections dedicated to Muslim burials (according to Austrian law), Orthodox burials and contains a Buddhist cemetery centered around a Stupa.
Initially, the cemetery’s distance from the city center made it very unpopular and the authorities had to think of ways to make it more attractive. Their answer to the problem was to build ornate honorary graves called Ehrengräber as a kind of tourist attraction. They line the main road leading up to the imposing yet beautiful St. Charles Borromeo Cemetery Church, built in 1908–1910 by Max Hegele in the Art Nouveau style.
The cemetery is also known for the famous musicians and composers buried there. Vienna being a city of music, the municipality expressed gratitude to composers by granting them monumental tombs. Here you will find the tombs of Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Schubert; both moved to the Central Cemetery from ‘Währinger Ostfriedhof’ in 1888. Others buried here include Johannes Brahms, Antonio Salieri, and Johann Strauss II.
The cemetery spans 2.5 km2 (620 acres). The Viennese joke that the Central Cemetery is “half the size of Zurich, but twice as much fun”. It has a dead population of almost twice the present living residents of Vienna.
You can pick up an audio tour guide at the front gate for 7 Euros and depending on how much time you have, you can choose between three different routes lasting between two to four hours. Or you can just go and discover it on your own.