- The Woodland Cemetery was build mostly between 1917 and 1940
- It is inscribed on the World Heritage List since 1994
- It is considered one of the world’s most impressive cemeteries
- The design highlights natural features and the landscape of the site
There are certain categories of places and attractions that people usually think of seeing when travelling and visiting new places. Castles, churches, squares, monuments, museums, gardens… These are all spots we use to go to when discovering cities. However, once in a while you can come across a place so unusual that you wouldn’t normally think of visiting it. What if I told you there was a forest-like cemetery you should totally see?
Well, hopefully, you would like the idea as that is exactly what we explore in this post. The Woodland Cemetery (Skogskyrkogården) in Stockholm is the most remarkable demonstration of the cemetery design revolution that Sweden was experiencing in the early 1900s.
Its story began in 1912 when the Stockholm City Council decided to acquire an extensive land adjacent to the existing Sandsborg cemetery, which was established in 1895 to serve Southern Stockholm’s parishes. An international contest was announced a few years later to select a design for the new cemetery that would be just across the Sockenvägen street from the older one.
The contest attracted a total of 53 entries, mostly from Sweden but some architectural proposals came from Germany, too, where the cemetery design revolution had started earlier. While the projects created by German architects appeared to be too general, probably because of their inability to visit the site in person due to the ongoing World War I, one of the Swedish proposals caught the interest of the organisers immediately.
The authors of the plan named ‘Tallum’ were two thirty-year-old architects Erik Gunnar Asplund and Sigurd Lewerentz. Perhaps thanks to Lewerentz’s prior experience from Germany, the architects managed to take full advantage of the existing features of the landscape, which is what made their proposal stand out.
It did not take long before the construction works started in 1917. Three years later, the cemetery and its first chapel – the Woodland Chapel – were consecrated. Soon it became clear, though, that the chapel was too small for the capacity of the cemetery and another needed to be built.
While the Woodland Chapel was designed solely by architect Asplund, the new one was going to be drawn by Lewerentz instead. The Chapel of Resurrection was completed in 1925 and is not only significantly larger than the Woodland Chapel, but also appears more prominent thanks to its neo-classicist design and its location at the end of the Seven Springs Way.
Before we move forward on the timeline guiding us through the existence of the Woodland Cemetery, we should stop for a short while and appreciate a somewhat subtle structure that deserves our attention. The 3.6-kilometre-long limestone wall surrounding the entire cemetery was built mostly using stones quarried at the cemetery itself and forms an elegant though massive natural border between the cemetery and the outer world.
Ten years after the Chapel of Resurrection was erected, it was Asplund’s time once again to draw a crematorium and an additional chapel. This was due to the fact that the practice of cremation was gaining more acceptance and more popularity at the same time. He came up with an original plan which consisted of three separate chapels that shared a mortuary and crematory facilities.
The three chapels are known as the Chapel of Faith, Chapel of Hope, and Chapel of the Holy Cross and were completed in 1940. This entire complex called the Woodland Crematorium was designed in the then modern functionalist style.
The evolution of the artistic masterpiece, that this cemetery certainly is, did not stop there. In the ‘50s, Lewerentz designed a new pedestrian gate on the western side to allow pedestrians easy access from the newly built subway station. The architect created a delicate iron gate which is in clear contrast with the massive limestone wall.
Although many of the architect’s designs drawn for the Woodland Cemetery went unrealised, his numerous works were erected during a very long time span. As I have mentioned, the construction of the cemetery itself started in 1917. It is, therefore, interesting to note that his last work was the Woodland Cemetery Memorial Ground completed in 1961 – 44 years after the first one.
The Memorial Ground, just like the rest of what you can find at the cemetery, was designed to show off the site’s natural features rather than monumental architecture. The idea behind this construction was to promote the newly established form of common graves where ashes could be accommodated in unmarked ground, either buried without urns or strewn upon the Memorial Ground’s surface.
The Woodland Cemetery has been inscribed on the World Heritage List UNESCO since 1994, which highlights the uniqueness and cultural value of this place. From a purely practical perspective, though, it is a beautiful place where human creations blend with the art of mother nature in a spectacular and unique way. Moreover, it is fascinating how unified and consistent the whole landscape of this large area is.
I hope you liked this story of one of the world’s most magnificent cemeteries. If you did, consider sharing it with your friends that might find it interesting, too, and have a look at more of our stories. To never miss a new one, sign up for our newsletter below and we will always keep you updated on the latest news from Trevl.
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Schönbäck, Hedvig, Johansson, Ingrid, 1995. Skogskyrkogården, Stockholm: byggnadshistorisk inventering.
Constant, Caroline, 1994. The Woodland Cemetery: Toward a Spiritual Landscape.