As cemeteries go, Vienna Central is among with biggest of them all. At half the size of the city of Zurich - "but twice as much fun", as the Viennese will tell you - it has so far witnessed over three million interments and 330,000 burials. From understated plots to opulent mausoleums, simple chapels to Buddhist stupas, Zentralfriedhof, as it is called locally, might be just about one of the most multicultural and class-defying cemeteries in Europe.
Although lesser known than Paris' Père Lachaise, Zentralfriedhof still attracts thousands of visitors every year, all keen to see the final resting places of the great and good of Austria's past, including famous musicians and former presidents. And while we'll admit that visiting a cemetery on your trip does initially seem slightly morbid, there's perhaps no better way of tracing the history of the city or, ironically, bringing it to life.
First opened in 1874 to react to rapid urbanisation of Vienna, the creation of an interdenominational cemetery was a controversial step in the religious atmosphere of 19th-century Austria. Although individuals of different faiths are buried in different areas, the fact that there are often no boundaries between different zones was seen by some as unacceptable.
Today, the cemetery reflects the diverse makeup of modern Vienna, with Islamic, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and even Mormon sections, as well as a variety of different Orthodox faiths from across Eastern Europe. In 2005, the site became home to Europe's very first Buddhist cemetery.
The cemetery is best known as the final resting place of many musical giants, including Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, and Johannes Brahms, all of whom are buried in an "Ehregräber" (graves of honour) section. Oddly, many of those buried here actually died before the cemetery even opened and their bodies were moved to this location as a way of encouraging people to visit. Even better, the coffins of those who knew each other personally were placed near each other..
Over in the Jewish areas of the cemetery, the neglected state of many of the graves is indicative of the huge toll that the Second World War took on the city's Jewish community; from an estimated population of 200,000 in 1938, there were as few as 1,000 Jewish people left in Vienna by the time it was liberated in 1945. While many visitors say that the Old Jewish Cemetery, which was destroyed by the Nazis during Kristallnacht, is one of the most interesting parts of the cemetery, it should be noted that others have reported finding it distressing.
Notable individuals buried, memorialised or interred here include:
In 2009, a section was added to act as a burial ground for the Institute of Anatomy of the Medical University of Vienna and as a memorial to those who have donated their bodies to scientific research. A baby cemetery, especially designed for stillborn babies, was also opened in the year 2000.
The cemetery is located in Simmering, a suburb on the outskirts of the city, and easily reachable by public transport. Visitors can take the 71 tram from Schwarzenbergplatz directly to the cemetery; today, a popular euphemism for someone having died is that they have "taken the 71".
The cemetery has three gates, with Gate 2 being the main entrance. The Old Jewish Cemetery can be found near Gate 1, while the Protestant cemetery, New Jewish Cemetery and the Park of Peace and Power are all closer to Gate 3.
Walking around the cemetery is a good way to take everything in, and a map, audio guide and plan of the honorary graves can be obtained from Gate 2. There is a dedicated cemetery bus, which travels around the site and runs every half an hour between 9am and 3:30 pm.
Those looking for a better understanding of the cemetery's history may wish to take a guided horse-drawn carriage tour, prices for which range between €50 - 80, depending on tour length.
November 1st to February 20th
March 1st to March 31st
April 1st to April 28th
May 1st to August 31st
September 1st to September 30th
October 1st to October 31st
Simmeringer Hauptstrasse 234