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 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.
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.
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?