Morbid Austria:
Touring Cemeteries of Vienna - Part I

The Karl Borromäus Church in the Central Cemetery in Vienna

Everything that has a beginning has an end. After leaving Austria to live first in the US and then in the UK, I was amazed to realise that one of the distinctive Austrian features is the country′s obsession with death. It does make sense, though: Our culture was shaped by the age of Baroque, when reason increasingly dismantled old mysteries like thunder and natural disasters - but death remained a central issue for every living being and gained a central role in the theology and art of Baroque.

Grief in stone at the cemetery of Hietzing.Vanity and symbols for it are commonly found in churches, monasteries and other buildings all over Austria and the country has several famous catacombs, charnel houses and cemeteries to offer. Many Austrians have a separate savings account in order to pay for their funerals. They can be very expensive and elaborate, often include the presence of musicians and choirs. Austrians like to emphasise to tourists how important the cemetery culture is, however, it is a rather recent addition to Austrian culture, since the big spending on funerals and tombs did not start that early.

In the Middle Ages and Early Modern days, cemeteries were typically around churches and not particularly elaborate at all. In Vienna, the biggest ones were around the old churches: Stephansdom Cathedral, the Michealerkirche, the Peterskirche, the Schottenstift Abbey and the Ruprechtskirche. In the 18th century, Emperor Joseph II worried about sanitation and the quality of the water in Vienna and closed all cemeteries in the first district - from now on, bodies were not to be buried within the city walls.

Myths about Mozart′s Funeral in Vienna

He built a whole series of new cemeteries in what was suburbs back then: The Währinger Friedhof Cemetery (Friedhof meaning "cemetery", or, literally, "court of peace") with an ancient Jewish Section, Matzleinsdorf, Schmelz and the cemetery of St. Marx in Biedermeier-style are the most famous of them. Joseph II also released several laws regulating the procedures of funerals, including the use of re-useable coffins.

A 'Putte' angel at one of my favourite tombs at Hietzing cemetery.This is nicely shown in the movie "Amadeus", when Mozart′s body is dumped in a mass grave in St. Marx. Just a few years later, the Austrian fuss about funerals kicked in and when it suddenly became a fashion even for middle-class people to have a decent grave, Mozart′s widow Constanze went to St. Marx and tried to identify her husband′s grave. Today, there is a plate commemorating where Mozart was buried - approximately.

The story about Mozart having a pauper′s funeral is somewhat made up, though. In fact, funerals like his were the rule for middle-class people at that time and there was actually an exorbitantly expensive service celebrated in his memory in the Michaelerkirche, where his "Requiem" was performed. Emmanuel Schikaneder, who also wrote the libretto for the "Magic Fluit" and was the director of the "Theater an der Wien" theatre, paid for this service. So Mozart′s end was not quite as badly struck by poverty as some sources might tell you.

The Währinger Friedhof Cemetery is not too far from Sigmund Freud′s apartment in the Berggasse, where he described the "Todestrieb" or "death drive". The Jewish Cemetery in Seegasse is more than 400 years old and was seriously damaged during the Nazi time. It was re-built and opened again in 1984.

Go to: "Morbid Vienna: Part I - Part II - Part III"

back to "vienna travel guide"

Vienna by District

District Overview - 1st (Innere Stadt) - 2nd (Leopoldstadt) - 3rd (Landstraße) - 4th (Wieden) - 5th (Margareten)- 6th (Mariahilf) - 7th (Neubau) - 8th (Josefstadt) - 9th (Alsergrund) - 10th (Favoriten) - 11th (Simmering) - 12th (Meidling) - 13th (Hietzing) - 14th (Penzing) - 15th (Fünfhaus) - 16th (Ottakring) - 17th (Hernals) - 18th (Währing) - 19th (Döbling) - 20th (Brigittenau) - 21st (Floridsdorf) - 22nd (Donaustadt) - 23rd (Liesing) -  Ringstraße - Surroundings

Further Reading

Photo Gallery: Cemeteries of Vienna

Kapuzinergruft: The Emperor's Tomb

Wikipedia on the Zentralfriedhof (Central Cemetery)

Jewish Cemetery of Währing

Michaelerkirche: Official Website of the Catacombs