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Living Heritage - The Hungarian Pere Lachaise
Kerepesi temető or the Graveyard at Fiume Street, known as ‘Hungary’s Pere
Lachaise', preserves Hungary's cultural history in a way that reminds the visitor how rich this cultural history is.
Alica Árvay
Diplomacy&Trade online | May 16, 2011

The graveyard was established in 1847 and, from the end of the 19th century, it became the burial place for fighters of liberty in the 1848-49 revolution. Lajos Kossuth, Hungary’s governor found his resting place here; Count Lajos Batthyany,the first Prime Minister of Hungary had a secret burial place but his reburial was here in 1870; Gyorgy Klapka, who originally served in the Austrian army, but joined the patriots’ army in the Hungarian revolution and defended the fortress of Komarom for two months after the Hungarian Army surrendered, is here.

Many others were mourned after, who are lying or commemorated here, such as Artur Gorgey, a commanding general in the revolution and Ferenc Deak, the ‘Wise Man of the Nation’, statesman and minister of justice, who negotiated the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867. We recall the memory of artists, who sacrificed their lives, such as Sandor Petofi, the poet, who died very young, and who was one of the sparks of the Revolution among the Youths of March to set the whole country on fire to fight for independence from Austria; or Janos Arany, ‘the Shakespeare of ballads’; and Mor Jokai, the most prolific novelist, and great story teller. His stories have enchanted many readers ever since. The famous actress, Lujza Blaha, the ‘Nightingale of the Nation’ found her resting place here. Their home now is this ‘tale’ garden, where the facts give way to truth even in the form of anecdotes beyond our comprehension.

‘Our father’ Kossuth, as he was called at the end of the 19th century, rests in sepulchral
vault there. Kossuth, a political leader and in 1849 the Regent-President, traveled around
the world after the defeat of the freedom fight and, though he was welcomed by many
in Britain and America, he faced poverty on his long journey. When he died as a solitary fugitive in Turin in 1894, his body was taken to Budapest. It was Mor Jokai, who delivered his funerary oration. The whole nation mourned him and, as a form of paying tribute, erected the largest sepulchral structure in Hungary. This mausoleum was designed by architect Kalman Gerster and sculptor Alajos Strobl.

The mausoleum’s style is eclectic, with two stone leopards at the gateway that allegorically stand for Liberty and Hungary. There were originally many discussions about the plans of Kossuth’s shrine. The secessionist Bela Lajta, for instance, suggested a Beehive oven with Hungarian style decor. In World War II, Soviet soldiers rested within the memorial and, because war demands sacrifices, the coffin was humbled by being deprived of precious stones looted by soldiers. Had they known that the coffin, itself is made of a semiprecious stone, green onyx plates, they would
have managed to find a way to take that, too.

Rita Szilagyi, our professional guide in Kerepesi
Ignorance is the best guardian angel at times, as they say.

The first democratically-elected Prime Minister of Hungary after the fall of Communism, Jozsef Antall, wished to rest close to Ferenc Deak. He was by profession a teacher, librarian, historian and most importantly, it was him who came to establish in Hungary institutions that serve as foundations for Western democracy. His sepulcher is one of the newest and the most monumental. It was designed by Miklos Melocco, who formed symbolic statues about the rule and ideals of democracy. It depicts a tent, a flag, and four hooded forerunners facing the four points of the compass. Rich in symbols, it refers to the pagan execution, laceration by the limbs.

Not only do horses represent the cruel means of death, but they symbolize power and they are those rare creatures that ran cross the borders of life and afterlife. Each of the four messengers on the horses embodies different meaning. One is the Defeated, the second one is the Keeper, the third is the Triumphant and the fourth is the Fighter. They all, according to urban legend, depict real life figures. The messenger, for instance, who seems to be wounded and leans over his horse, is believed to be the sculptor, Melocco, himself. In accord with Antall’s last wish, ivy was brought from his parents’ grave and now covers the area between the four messengers.

In the form of graves, tombs, memorials, stone figures, crosses among the trees, many stories come to life. Consider, for instance, the minister of justice, Dezso Szilagyi’s ‘afterlife’: on his grave, the sculptor portrayed a lion that looks down on the visitor. Above the lion head is a relief of the deceased, on which he seems to be looking away from the viewer. Both the man on the relief and the lion express royal despise for the breathing wanderer of this garden. It is a grizzling experience. Janos Xantus, a traveler and the first director of the Budapest Zoo rests here, too. He is said to have been the role model for Old Shatterhand in Karl May’s novel. Who is there to dispute this glory?

A stone couple is standing, embracing each other in the shadows of the wood, they lived in 19th century. The young man was a rich Hungarian noble man, the lady was allegedly a Vanderbilt. They got married in America and on their way back on the ship, the newly-wed lady committed suicide out of jealousy and the man died ‘after’ her... Our stories are about us and the way we remember them is the way we will be remembered. May we rest in peace!

'When I am dead, think of me sometimes,
but not too long, and not for long,
While you live, Let your thoughts be
With the living.'

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