By Jeppe Villadsen, journalist, 2006
The modern graveyard
An aerial view of Mariebjerg Cemetery reveals a tight, schematic pattern over a vast area: trees in straight lines, sharply pruned hedges and square spaces - a neat and well-organised system framed by woods. A network of big avenues cut through the cemetery and long, metre-high hedges subdivide the area.
Trees, plants and bushes are used to create a wide range of separate “grave spaces”, each with their unique expression - from the well-nursed garden to the forest-like area. Each space contains an interpretation of a characteristic part of the Danish landscape. There are ditches, flowering meadows, wood clearances, fields, overgrown slopes etc.
Mariebjerg Cemetery is a demonstration of how a continuous whole can be created despite people’s different wishes for their burial place. The solution is the varying types of defined spaces for different types of graves. At the same time, the spaces create intimacy around the burial sites.
With its ambition to create order and coherence between the cemetery and the individual burial sites, Mariebjerg Cemetery is part of the modern breakthrough in Denmark. The cemetery has been copied in many other places in the country. It has achieved great international recognition and is considered a major work in European garden architecture.
At its inauguration in 1936, Mariebjerg represented a radical confrontation with the traditional way of thinking and designing a cemetery. Particularly since the individual burial place became less important at Mariebjerg Cemetery, because the grave sites must adapt to a common plan. For this reason it has been called a ‘democratic cemetery’. There are no ostentatious or self-orchestrated burial monuments here - in death we are all equal.
Did you know?
The architect Frits Schlegel, who has created the chapel, which belongs to Mariebjerg Cemetery, was from 1928 to 1965 a house architect for the zoo and has among other things drawn Girafhuset, Ormegården and Bjørnegrotten.
The committee's justification
By the Committee for Architecture, 2006
The forest and its clearings, meadows and heaths have existential significance as Denmark is a woodland where deforestation is a prerequisite for cultivation. Mariebjerg Cemetery is artistically significant because the deforestation is, in this case, transformed into cultivation art and architecture.
The cultivated landscape’s meadows, ditch edges, stone walls and greenery along the paths, fences and brows are found in the forest clearings that form the framework of the grave quarter. Mariebjerg Cemetery is also important as a breakthrough for modernity, because it shows how to create coherence between graveyards and graves, between the individual and the totality. The artistic problem is solved with an aesthetic, organisational method, derived from neoclassical thinking that involves accepting and organising the monuments in a landscape situation.
The result is a number of regular quarters framed by yew hedges, linked by avenues of elm and willow. To this architectural spatial order, a little desirable opacity has been added, which is also an essential part of the modern artistic expression in gardens, in the form of small-foliage, exotic trees with shrubs and flowering, native fruit trees. Mariebjerg Cemetery with Frits Schlegel’s Chapel is a unique example of home for people in the afterlife. An artistically refined landscape set in an architectural and democratic framework.