Skogskyrkogården’s history begins at the beginning of the 1900s, when Stockholm’s cemeteries were insufficient. In 1912 Stockholm City Council acquired a tract of former gravel pits overgrown with pine trees for the purpose of creating a new cemetery and organized an international architectural competition for its design. The competition was won by two 30-year old Swedish architects, Gunnar Asplund and Sigurd Lewerentz, and and the first construction phase of the cemetery was completed three years later.
Unlike most cemetery designs at the time, there was no rigid structure to the layout of this new cemetery, but It acquiesced to the elements of the landscape, rather than bending the ground to its will.
Essential models for the design of the cemetery were the German forest cemeteries of Friedhof Ohlsdorf at Hamburg and Waldfriedhof in Munich but also the neoclassical paintings of Caspar David Friedrich. Asplund and Lewerentz were also influenced by ancient and medieval Nordic burial archetype, their culture and symbols.
The installation of footpaths, meandering freely through the woodland, is minimal and the graves are laid out without excessive alignment within the forest.
The rejection of discipline in the design was, in some ways, a rejection of the idea of industrialisation that was taking hold in Sweden at the time and the burials were symbolically saved from the cities and returned to a primordial landscape.
The path through the cemetery is a long route leading from the ornamental colonnaded entrance that then splits: one way leading through a pastoral landscape, complete with a large pond and a tree-lined meditation hill, and the other up to a large detached granite cross and the abstract portico of the crematorium and the chapels of the Holy Cross, Faith, and Hope. The paths then rejoin and pass along a dead-straight path through a dense grove of tall pine trees, the so-called Way of Seven Wells, leading to the “Uppståndelsekapellet” (Resurrection Chapel).
The giant dark granite cross at the focus of the vista from the main entrance has also been described as having been based on a painting by Caspar David Friedrich, titled “Cross on the Baltic Sea” (1815), signifying hope in an abandoned world. However, Asplund and Lewerentz insisted that the cross was open also to non-Christian interpretations, according to Friedrich himself: “To those who see it as such, a consolation, to those who do not, simply a cross.”
Skogskyrkogården (literally “Woodland Cemetery”) has had a profound influence on cemetery design in many countries of the world and is even inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, since 1994.
It holds approximately 50,000 graves divided into two areas. One of them is known as the “Forest of Remembrance” where individuals are buried anonymously, allowing anyone to visit and leave flowers in remembrance.
The night time at this cemetery is particularly beautiful, as it is lit by the lanterns visitors leave behind as an offering.
The most famous grave in the Skogskyrkogården is of actress Greta Garbo.
Author’s notes: at the Tallum Pavilion (a building designed originally by Asplund as staff facilities), visitors can see an exhibition about the cemetery and the story of its origins and the two architects whose vision created it.
Skogskyrkogården is connected to a metro station by the same name (Skogskyrkogården metro station)
All photos from Wikipedia