A little cemetery history
By the middle of the 1840s, cemeteries of Pest had serious trouble with the lack of space, so city leaders decided in 1847 that it was high time to find a new public cemetery location; this became today’s Fiumei Road – Kerepesi Road – Graveyard. In the beginning, it was not popular – if you can talk about popularity in the case of cemeteries – which was partly because it was difficult to access. Apart from this, as of the 1850s, protests and wreath laying ceremonies were organised here regularly in memory of revolutionists who died in the War of Independence of 1848-49.
One of the most important events of this period: Mihály Vörösmarty’s obsequies that turned into a silent mass demonstration against the Bach era. The infrastructure of the graveyard improved, the city leaders had a brick wall built around the area that was parcelled out and the land was afforested. They also decided to establish service buildings (guardhouse, bone-chamber, chapel and morgues) as well. The prestige of the cemetery grew a lot in 1860, when law student Géza Forinyák – who was mortally wounded at a demonstration against the Habsburgs – was buried here. His obsequies transformed into a sympathy demonstration – just like Vörösmarty’s did earlier. The idea to make the cemetery the number one graveyard of the nation emerged first in 1871, by Frigyes Feszl. Finally, in 1885, the 880th decree of the general assembly of the capital declared the area a cemetery of honour. Afterwards, the development of the cemetery was deliberate so much that a part of it became a bit over-constructed by the 20th century. Regarding the graves, very few graves remained from the period before 1885, excluding the mural burial chambers that are the oldest elements in the cemetery.
One of the first and most important obsequies in the history of the cemetery was that of Ferenc Deák. The old statesman died in 1876, and tenders were invited for making his tomb. Kálmán Gerster was the winner, and the crypt – that was consecrated on 21st May 1887 – is one of the most beautiful artworks of the Hungarian funeral art.
The most often mentioned funeral in Budapest of all times – Lajos Kossuth’s – was in 1894, and it moved the largest masses of people. Officially, Kossuth could receive the ceremony on the Kerepesi Road as an honorary citizen of Budapest. His mausoleum – the joint work of Kálmán Gerster and Alajos Stróbl – is still the biggest shrine in Hungary. The mosaics decorating the ceiling were made in Miksa Róth’s workshop.
The arcaded crypts were built based on Italian examples mainly. The public opinion welcomed the row of arcade, as a replacement of mural burial chambers, which took over their representative role. During that time, the most expensive tombs were established here. Celebrities like Ignác Alpár, Artúr Görgei and metalwork artist Gyula Jungfer rest here.
You can find examples not only for polishing the glory of great statesmen. Mari Jászai’s mausoleum with her epitaph written by her has been standing there since 1915, though she died in 1926. Naturally, it happened that living persons had their names engraved on tombs, but erecting a complete mausoleum was rather odd. Mari Jászai even visited her tomb regularly, and allegedly, she organised meetings there. Her tomb – made by Jenő Szabó and Károly Miakits – is special in another aspect as well: it was carved from the stones of the old National Theatre that stood at Astoria.
When the final rest is not eternal
The beginning of the 20th century was dominated by reburials; its relative tranquillity was disturbed by the outbreak of the Second World War. In January 1945, a Soviet technical corps exploded the wall of Kerepesi Road Cemetery and then the Red Army occupied the cemetery. Next day, a German counter-attack began, but they were held up. Many killed soldiers were buried here, and the Soviet military parcels were also formed this way. During bombing, a great number of crypts and mausoleums suffered irreparable damages, but a large Soviet troop camped in the cemetery for several days after the siege. Besides that, they robbed and foraged many tombs including the Deák mausoleum and they spent their time shooting probably due to boredom. It seems that they preferred human figures, because a lot of shrines keep the traces of this pointless ravage. It might be surprising knowing the history, but the Council of the Capital declared the area a closed cemetery and a National Pantheon in 1956.
One of the most expensive tomb robberies was that of the Batthyány mausoleum. A gang specialised in cemetery thefts, robbed the place between December 1986 and January 1987, when Batthyány’s farewell letter, ceremonial sword, wedding ring and jewels disappeared. Another robbery that had a great media response happened in 2007, when unknown perpetrators took János Kádár’s mortal remains. The marble cover stone of the tombs were removed, a part of the soil was dug out and the metal coffin was cut out. According to the police, even Mrs. Kádár’s urn was gone.
On a small piece of the Fiume Road Cemetery, the Salgótarjáni Road Israelite Cemetery was established in 1874. The neologist graveyard became the final resting-place of the Jewish elite of Pest. Sándor Fellner and Zsigmond Quittner designed the most beautiful crypts in the graveyard. The ceremonial building and the gate are Béla Lajta’s artwork. Unfortunately in the 1980s, the dome of the ceremonial building caved in, there were also several tomb robberies and plants badly damaged many tombs as well.
Naturally, this was not the first time that a piece of the graveyard was taken away; the present form of the cemetery developed due to the expansion of the Tire Factory.
The National Heritage Institute has managed the cemeteries since 2016; the employees of the institute introduce these wonderful memorial places in the frame of thematic walks in the graveyard. The tours offer a real relaxation as both our history and the rich flora and fauna show up in the park. The most valuable trees of the woodstock are the over a hundred years old tree-methuselahs; squirrels, dormice and foxes also live here besides the rich bird population.
Translated by Zita Aknai