When you wander among the ivy-clad graves that speckle this Victorian-era graveyard hidden within the outskirts of Amsterdam, thoughts of long coats, elegant dresses, post-mortem photographies and unrequited love easily come to mind. Walking around at Huis te Vraag is like walking through the garden of an ancient fairy tale, and the beauty of the overgrown plants is simply stunning.
Anyway the land has a long history. Huis te Vraag, which means “House for Inquiry” in Dutch, probably got its name because in 1489, Austrian emperor Maximilian I asked for directions to Amsterdam at the inn that was once located there. The inn (and the mansion later built) on the land disappeared, but the name remained the same.
In 1891, the place reopened as a private gravesite for the Dutch Reformed Church, thanks to the efforts of a local carpenter who had bought the land one year a year before. At the time the land was still part of the municipality of Sloten. However, due to the annexation of Sloten by Amsterdam, the cemetery became part, since January 1, 1921, of the territory of the municipality of Amsterdam. The municipality refused to expand the cemetery in 1962, by purchasing the 2.5-hectare site and closing the cemetery. At that time, about 12.000 deceased were allegedly buried there (15 or 16.000 according to some sources), and some of the anonymously interred were those whose bodies were found in the area during and after World War II. For this reason there are a lot of anonymous graves and the exact number of bodies that are buried here will never be known.
Back in the days, caskets were stacked on top of each other in graves as deep as five meters in the ground. This is why although the cemetery is relatively tiny, with the size of a small city park, it holds so many bodies.
It seems that an urn containing the ashes of Dutch poet Hendrik van Teylingen was illegally buried here in 1988. He was so in love with Huis te Vraag, that had written 37 sonnets about this very cemetery.
Today, the cemetery maintain a precarious balance between the gray of the graves and the green of the foliage, and It’s a peaceful, quiet place. Though it’s closed to the dead (the last burial took place in the 1960s) the cemetery is still open to the living.
Author’s note: Huis te Vraag is open for visitors in slightly peculiar opening hours. The cemetery can be visited Tuesday to Friday from 11:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m.