A Lazy Saturday at the Hietaniemi Cemetery
If you are looking for a slightly different day out in down town Helsinki, you could always try heading over to the old Hietaniemi Cemetery that is sitting right on the western edge of the Helsinki peninsula. Founded in 1828, this large and sprawling cemetery contains the graves of past Finnish presidents, politicians, artists, war heroes and many other people of cultural and historical importance.
This is considered to be culturally and historically the most important cemetery, not only in Helsinki but also in the whole of Finland. It’s not exactly the Père Lachaise (Where I have once been, and will later write about as well…) but it does have its own sense of serene charm that you maybe won’t find from Senate Square. Plus for history buffs it is a must see look into Finland’s most important people, laid to rest.
Strolling through, on a cloudy and chilly Saturday there is a peaceful calm and tranquillity that one would come to expect from a cemetery, but it is odd considering its location in the bohemian suburb of Töölö.
Thousands upon thousands of gravestones are lined up in neat rows, all with their own little oddities and decorations.
You will notice a distinct trend towards Swedish family names, which is indicative of the Swedish speaking aristocracy that ruled over the country until about the 1960s.
At the top end of the property, nestled alongside a large, featureless chapel that is barren of virtually all ornamentation, you will find a small garden that contains the headstones of most of the former Finnish presidents. Their graves are small, simplistic and without pomp.
Here is the grave of Mauno Koivisto, the very first social democrat elected to Finland, who passed away and was interred here earlier this year.
Strolling away from the chapel takes you to the Cemetery of Heros.
This place is where Finland’s great war heroes are interred, as well as being the location for the WW2 war memorial and other war-related graves.
Walking to the other side takes you to the “Old Cemetery”. Here the graves are, understandably considering the name of the place, much older. They are far less organised in their placement, clumped together in haphazard patterns and less well maintained.
Here in the old section, if you know where to look, you can come across this unassuming marble slab.
That headstone is for Kaarlo Juho Ståhlberg – The first ever President of Finland. I was shocked by the lack of a grandiose memorial for my people’s first own leader, but following a brief bit of personal reflection, it is indeed a very Finnish thing to have done. I’m sure old Ståhlberg would have considered anything larger a waste of perfectly good Finnish rocks.
A short stroll from this takes you to the “Artists Hill” which contains the gravestones of many of Finland’s most famous artists, poets, actors, musicians and what have you.
Here is the final resting place of Tove Jansson, the creator of beloved children’s characters the Moomins.
A different day out, to be sure, but interesting none the less. There is something unreal about seeing the gravestone of a famous person. Someone you have been taught about your entire life, but only known in the most abstract of ways. It kind of cements them as real, but at the same time – they have passed on, so they aren’t any more “real” than they were before you saw their memorial. A strange feeling indeed.