Death in the Afternoon: The Round Cemetery of Sayalonga

I love discovering and exploring burial sites wherever I am in the world, not because of any morbid fascination with death, but in the expectation of visually recording their beauty, history and existence.  To me, cemeteries are places where art, history and world religion meet. 

Of course, visiting the graves of our ancestors is a ritual dating back as long as bodies have been buried, allowing families not only to grieve but also to honour and celebrate lives that have passed. 

In Spain, cemeteries still form an integral part of community life.

The Round Cemetery, Sayalonga, Spain

The only round cemetery in Spain can be found in Sayalonga, a typical whitewashed village some 40 kilometres east of the city of Málaga and 9 kilometres from the coast, deep in the heart of the Axarquía region.  You might remember Sayalonga from my recent post about the narrowest street in the Axarquía.

Despite it’s name, the outer walls of Cementerio Redondo, as you can see from the photos, are actually octagonal with rows of parallel, oblong traditional graves added more recently, in the centre.  The older, individual dome-shaped tombs are constructed on top of each other giving the impression of a giant, white honeycomb.

The Round Cemetery, Sayalonga, Spain

Originally, the village cemetery was in the courtyard of the local church of Santa Catalina, however, the Round Cemetery was constructed during the first half of the 19th century and, for hygiene reasons, placed just outside of the village limits.

The motive for this curious shaped cemetery isn’t known, but one explanation is that it was built in imitation of the old cemetery.  I prefer the more romantic interpretation that it was so that the dead could not turn their backs on one another.

There is a small visitor centre at the entrance, which shows and explains the history of the cemetery to more than 3000 tombstone tourists each year.

So, where is Sayalonga’s Cementerio Redondo?

About a forty minute drive east of the city of Málaga along the A7-E15 Autovía del Mediterraneo to km 277, take the exit signposted A 7206 inland towards Algarrobo (pueblo), Sayalonga and Cómpeta.  Stay on the A7206 through the village of Algarrobo and drive up the winding mountain road for a further five minutes until you reach Sayalonga.

There is a mirador (viewpoint) on your left as you are leaving the village heading towards Cómpeta, which gives a good view of the Round Cemetery.

The Round Cemetery, Sayalonga, Spain

Are you a fellow taphophile?  Do you enjoy visiting cemeteries when you are on vacation?  Where’s the most unusual cemetery you’ve ever visited?

Related posts:

Weekly Photo Challenge: Curves

The Day of the Dead: A Celebration of Life

Sayalonga: The narrowest street in the Axarquía

93 thoughts on “Death in the Afternoon: The Round Cemetery of Sayalonga

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  2. I love cemeteries ! The one in Comares is also very lovely ! Everytime we visit Comares, we go to the cemetery. And from up there you have the most beautiful views !

  3. I love your picture!!! They are always interesting and the colours are so vivid!!! The round cemetery is amazing, do you have any idea what kind of diameter it has to give me some idea of actual size? (Approximately – I don’t want you going back armed with a tape measure lol)
    By the way, could a taphophile also be someone who loves being Welsh lol (as in taffophile 🙂 🙂 🙂 )
    Look forward to your next installment, Kay

    • Hahaha …. love it! I guess a taffophile would be a Welsh cemetery tourist! 😉

      I’m pretty hopeless at guessing sizes – maybe 50 metres?

      Thanks for your very kind words, Kay 🙂

  4. Great pictures Marianne, I just love visiting Cemeteries also, there is a very special air of calm within them, I guess these cemeteries are above ground as it would be so difficult excavating rock in the mountains to bury people, I understand in Italy they have similar cemeteries but they are standing vertically !

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  7. Learned a new word here, taphophile. I´m not one but I must say that passing might seem less scary if one were to rest in peace in such a pretty cemetery.

    • Hi Mo – it was a new word for me, too – but at least it’s nice to put a word to my little hobby 🙂

      The attitude to death here in Spain has made it a much less scary event to me. It’s treated as much more a part of life and seems like a healthy attitude.

  8. Marianne, I am also fascinated by cemeteries when I travel. I love to see how different cultures bury and respect their dead. This cemetery is beautiful; I love the honeycomb shapes of the tombs and the whitewashed color. I love the romantic interpretation of why the cemetery was built like this: so the dead couldn’t turn their backs on each other. A very nice thought indeed. 🙂

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  11. Visiting cemeteries isn’t something I would’ve thought of doing when abroad but I can see why people would… these are really interesting in design, so different to what we would be use to in the UK that’s for sure! Great post, lovely photos, love those blue skies! 🙂

  12. Totally agree. I love them too. I love the idea that death is a part of life, and not something to shy away from, even though it’s often hard to understand or accept. Wandering around a small graveyard recently I wondered about the folk on the plaques, and somehow thought that the wondering kept them “alive” even though I didn’t know them, does that make sense? LOL, well, it did to me.

    Perhaps it’s the climate, but Spanish cemeteries are especially lovely, and this one looks very special, a fitting resting place for someone one loved. Thanks for this post.

    • Death IS a part of life, that’s for sure, though as you say, Linda, sometimes very difficult to accept. I understand what you mean about keeping at the memory of them alive by wandering around cemeteries.

      Don’t you also think that Spanish cemeteries, usually being above ground, are less “scary” than ones back home?

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  14. Fascinating. I’ve never seen or heard of anything like this. I like the idea of families being intered together in the honeycomb fashion.
    My love of family history and wandering old cemeteries goes hand in hand. We have an old family cemetery near where my grandparents’ farm was near Scone in country NSW which is interesting to visit, and in search of graves of my ex-husband’s Irish immigrant ancetors I visited a very old cemetery at Koroit in Victoria near Port Fairy. And of course the G.O. convict ancestors’ graves at Parramatta and Wilberforce.

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  16. One of the latest cemeteries I visited, I was on an excursion with a whole bunch of people, and they all CROWDED en masse to get a gawk into this very beautiful, small-town cemetery with lots and lots of gorgeous, colourful flowers, just so they could peek at – Rocío Jurado’s grave!

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  19. I’ve never seen nor heard of any cemetery like this one, Marianne. Like your photos, it’s striking in so many ways. Thank you for bringing it to our attention.

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  22. How beautiful! Your photos are quite stunning. I find cemeteries to be absolutely fascinating. For me, they’re a wonderful study of the local history and culture. My 6 year old grandson showed quite an interest in a burial ground (Trinity Burial Ground) we came across recently that is smack dab in the middle of Downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Turns out to be the oldest unreconstructed historical site in the city. He was fascinated by which people and families had the biggest markers and why. I love that!

    • What a lovely story, Jody. I think it’s important that children have some exposure to death, and this is an excellent way. My late grandmother used to tell me (when I was a little girl that the people who had the biggest tombstones in the graveyard had been bad people in life and the stone was to keep them under!

      Hahaha …. this was also the lady who told me that when she died, they would put her in a glass coffin in the cupboard under the stairs, and every time I went into the cupboard for anything – she would wink at me! Funnily enough, at the time I thought that was pretty cool!

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  24. There is much local history stored in cemeteries – I have always been interested in history, so if I have time on my travels too commercial – find to visit local cemeteries… 😉

  25. That’s cooool! Not morbid – don’t worry! I visited an awesome cemetery in Buenos Aires a few years ago. I can’t remember the name. ‘Recoleta’, maybe? Anyway, it was massive, all grandiose and royally clad and I had a good time getting lost in it. Great pics Marianne!

  26. What an interesting looking cemetery! Apart from the shape of the tombs, I love that the whole thing is white washed. (Anything white washed and set against a deep blue sky is worthy of a photograph as far as I’m concerned!) Thank you for sharing another beautiful spot from your corner of the world!

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  28. taphophile huh? this one looks wonderful. The Big Easy does a good line in above ground cemeteries and if you haven’t already, next time you’re in London make time for the Highgate Cemetery (old side) tour.
    Perfect pics for the theme.

  29. I’m so pleased to discover that other people enjoy visiting cemeteries on their travels. I thought I was just weird!!

  30. Amazing!!
    There are some beautiful cemeteries in London… if you ever get the chance, visit Islington Cemetery (which is actually in East Finchley, but never mind!). It’s enormous, and I’ve spent many relaxing hours there, walking, and, in the autumn, blackerrying and picking mulberries 🙂

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