Established in the 17th century, the oldest cemetery in Brussels soon attracted aristocracy and bourgeoisie thanks to the presence of the tomb of the first Queen of the Belgians. With its tall trees and 13th-century church that now lies partly in ruins, it has an undeniably romantic character. Different types of funerary architecture and some major works of sculpture can be seen scattered throughout, including the first version of Rodin’s Thinker, on the tomb of art critic Josef Dillen, near the entrance. Numerous personalities are also buried here, such as Fernand Khnopff, Josef Poelaert, “La Malibran’, Belliard, Bockstae; and Delhaize.
Several legends circulate about the cemetery: the Virgin is said to have destroyed the church three times, until it was finally decided to orient it southwards. Another rumor claims that during the summer solstice, rays of sunlight trace the figure of a heart inside the little temple of Léonce Evrard (Grande avenue, plot 1825).
In 1857, following an increase in the urban population, Emile Bockstael proposed the installation of new funeral galleries: beneath 1.5 hectares of land, tall underground walls with niches were built, allowing coffins to be laid horizontally. Although access to the older galleries is prohibited due to their deterioration, the most recent section, open to the public, gives a rather chilling impression. Go to the rear of the cemetery where you’ll find the impressive entrance, dating from 1932. Take the stairs leading underground. One of the galleries runs a long way towards the middle of the cemetery. Access to it is closed off by a gate, but the view alone gives some idea of the extent of the network and a sense of the solemn atmosphere of this final resting place.
When you are next in Brussels, take a stroll around this cemetery – the funerary architecture and sculpture is really quite beautiful. There is also such a sense of love and devotion here, a sense which I am sure you will take away with you.