Cemeteries are spiritual and yet eerie at the same time. They’re peaceful and serene and yet haunting for some depending on when you go and whether there’s a howling wind and a full moon at the time. I love seeing cemeteries when I travel since I think they give clues to the culture of a country or region and they help you learn about some of the trends based on history, i.e., when people died and why.
I visited a beautiful cemetery in Chile’s Punta Arenas called Cementerio Municipal “Sara Braun” this past fall. It was named after her as she was an important benefactor and donated the manorial entrance and gateway.
It has four hectares and is located in the northern area of the city, in Bulnes Avenue, and between the streets Francisco Bilbao and Angamos. To explore the cemetery itself, there are three entrances: the main entrance is in Bulnes Avenue, and two other entrances on Francisco Bilbao and Angamos streets. The cemetery has been ranked by CNN as one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world and it was designated a National Monument of Chile in 2012.
The cemetery was inaugurated on the 9th of April 1894. This saint field was built in order to replace the old one, which was located where José de los Santos Mardones Square is today.
Relevant figures are buried in the cemetery including the great families of that epoch such as Menèndez-Behety, Braun Hamburger, Blanchard, Greenshields, Kusanovic and Menèndez-Montes. One of the things that is hard to miss when you walk into the cemetery is how large so many of the stones are – many are surrounded by large well manicured bushes and trees while other lanes have smaller tombstones, some of which appear to belong to a series of families.
In other areas, you’ll find shells of cribs, which represent the children and babies which have died — it was astounding how many I found.
When Sara Braun gave everything for building the entrance of the cemetery, she asked for something. After her death, the central door of the cemetery had to be closed forever. Nowadays, that door is still closed and has not been opened since Sara Braun’s death.
Another known legend of the cemetery is the one concerning the “Indio Desconocido”. Everything started in 1930 when an Indian died in the Island called Diego de Almagro. The Indian was buried in the cemetery due to a donation from the administration of the same place. After twenty years, someone discovered several candles and coins around the grave.
The years passed by and in 1968 the grave were plenty of papers demonstrating gratitude for being helped by the Indian. Moreover, a woman named Magdalena Vrsalovic decided to donate the coins, in order to help the Cruz Roja of Punta Arenas, a Chilean Institution that helps the community in case of difficulties. Therefore, Magdalena and other people agreed to build a monumental grave with the figure of the Indian made by Edmundo Casanova.